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CONSTANCE WEST 







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NEW YORK. 



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JOHN LANE THE BODLEY HEAD 
LONDON eff NEW YORK MDCCCCV 



coFinttoirr 1905 

BY JOHN LAMB 



THE ^'F.^V YonK 
PUBLIC LIEr.AKY 

320119^ 

ASTOP, LENOX AND 
TILDEN FOUNDATIONS 
o 1927 ^ 









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&it up and electrotyped by the Hustc4 Linotype Co., 
Qeveland, Ohio, U.S.A. 
: Printed by Ballantvnb, Hanson 6* Ca London 



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CONSTANCE WEST 



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Constance West 



CHAPTER I 



ON that great band of iron wherewith men have 
bound together ocean to ocean across a conti- 
nent, one of the smaller stations is called Big 
Horn. The next to it is known as Big End, 
and in consequence strangers sometimes blunder between 
the two. 

On this day a solitary passenger— ra middle-aged lady 
of brisk appearance and active movements — ^alighted 
from the westward bound train at Big Horn and pres- 
ently, upon inquiry, was dismayed to find that she was 
not at Big End and that there was no other train until 
the next day. 

"You can likely drive, ma'am, if you want," observed 
one of the bystanders, for quite a little group of people 
had gathered on seeing her dilemma, to consider her case 
and to offer her advice. "I reckon some of the Big End 
folk will likely as not be in town." 

"I saw Jim Cross a while back," said a second man, 
and at once two or three of them started off to. see if he 
or another could be found. 

"I am sorry to give so much trouble," said the stranger 
apologetically, "but I am very anxious to get to my 
destination." 

Indeed, she seemed to show a kind of nervous im- 



Constance West 



patience, as though each moment's delay were torture, 
that increased the already sufficient curiosity of the by- 
standers concerning her. One or two ventured to hint 
questions as to the cause of her journey and as to her 
business at Big End, but she put by such remarics with a 
decided ain 

"How far is it?" she remarked presently. 

She was assured that the distance was not great, that 
while the trails remained as good as they were that day 
it could easily be driven within three hours. Satisfied 
on this point she sat down to rest and await the return 
of her self-constituted messengers, and while she rested 
the station loungers watched her and discussed her ap- 
pearance and her probable business with much interest. 

She was evidently only recently arrived from England ; 
every detail of her dress and of her manner testified to 
that. In appearance she was a small, slight woman, deli- 
cate, indeed almost fragile. Her face was pale with hol- 
low cheeks, the nose long and thin, and the lips closely 
pressed together. From the comer of the left eye ran a 
red sharply defined scar and from that eye she was not 
able to see, though no one would have guessed so much 
from its appearance. The other eye was remarkably 
bright and restless as though it knew it had double work 
to do. Her whole manner was precise and formal, and 
all her movements were so brisk and decided that it al- 
most seemed as though her face» weary and deeply lined, 
must be older than her body with its quick, easy actions. 
Though evidently grateful for the interest taken in her 
predicament, she showed no disposition to be drawn into 
conversation. The only information the bystanders 
gained was her name — Mrs. Constance West — ^from th^ 



Constance West 



address on a small hand bag she had with her. This dis- 
covery they immediately signalized by so addressing her. 

In the midst of their speculation, each advancing a 
different theory, a man arrived hurriedly, scenting a 
chance to earn a dollar or two, and announcing himself as 
"Jim Cross." He was rather rough lodking, Mrs. West 
thought, but he seemed known to every one and he de- 
clared that he had a "dandy cutter" and could undertake 
to bring her to Big End in time for supper "dead easy." 
Mrs. West did not know what a "dandy cutter" might 
be, but every one seemed to think the opportunity a good 
one. 

"You see," said the ticket-clerk, "there ain't no train 
here till to-morrow except the eastward." 

"The eastward?" she repeated after him and suddenly 
she seemed to hesitate. "The eastward?" she repeated; 
"then one could return?" 

They all looked at her in surprise, for it seemed from 
her manner as though she did indeed contemplate imme- 
diately returning. 

"Do you mean that, ma'am?" asked one, voicing the 
general doubt. 

"I — ^think so," she said, and then quickly interrupting 
the general murmur of astonishment: "No, no; let us be 
gone." 

She began to make arrangements with Cross and sud- 
denly displayed again a feverish anxiety to be away. 

Cross, himself, was anxious to be ofiF, for though the 
day had so far been very fine, clouds were gathering in 
the north. His horses were already harnessed ; in a very 
few moments everything was satisfactorily settled, and 
she, sitting beside Cross in the sleigh he had called a 



Constance West 



"dandy cutter," was being rapidly driven towards the lit- 
tle settlement of Big End« 

At Big Horn depot, the loungers gathered round the 
stove in the office and discussed her minutely. 

"It was mighty queer," said the ticket clerk^ "her talk- 
ing about the eastward train and returning. She said 
^he didn't mean it, I know^ but I guess she did all right 
when she spoke— «he looked so scary like." 

But this opinion was crushed beneath unfavourable and 
derisive comment and so the conversation wandered on, 
the men discussing every detail with the appetite of those 
to whom few things happen. 

Meanwhile Mrs. West was speeding rapidly on her 
journey. It was still early in the year and the frost that 
had held the land with intense grip for five months showed 
as yet no sign of relaxing. Everywhere, as far as the eye 
could see, was the same unending dazzling whiteness of 
the sn6w« It was as though nothing else existed or 
could exist but this, wide and white and level. Except 
here and there at long intervals where a scant poplar bluff 
would rear itself, stiff and tall, or a few willow bushes 
would peep through their powdery covering, there was 
no change or break in the chill monotony of the scene. 
But Mrs. West had quite thrown off the momentary de- 
pression that had seemed to seize her at the railroad 
depot She now found a charm in everything, and every- 
thing alike seemed to her pleasant and even delightful. 

The sun was shining brightly still, and his rays 
sparkled on the frozen snow till it glittered like diamonds. 
Not a breath of wind was stirring so that, though the 
temperature was considerably below zero, the cold did not 
feel extreme. The horses sped swiftly on the hard well- 



riM 



Constance West 



worn trail and the fresh keen prairie air came to Mrs. 
West, oppressed by days of stuffy travelling, like the 
finest of tonics. Her spirits rose momentarily, a new joy 
thrilled in her veins, and she became glad as she thought 
how near she was to the end of her long journey. She 
enjoyed everything, from the swift, smooth motion of 
the sleigh to the sight of the surrounding endless snow 
that in another mood might have seemed of an unbear- 
able monotony. f 

Every now and then they would pass some settler's 
farm, and to all Cross gave a name, introducing her, as 
it were, with a flourish of his whip. These farms were 
of all sizes ; some just tiny shacks with a sod-roofed 
stable near by ; and some quite large groups of buildings, 
fenced in, and surrounded by groups of young trees. At 
all alike Mrs. West gazed with intense interest, picturing 
herself in her fancy the mistress of each one. 

At first Cross had seemed inclined to be rather talkative, 
but he gradually grew silent. The sun that had shone so 
brightly, withdrew itself behind some clouds and a dark- 
ness spread with wonderful rapidity in the north. Cross 
watched it uneasily and was half inclined to seek shelter 
at the next farm house they saw. There were puffs of 
wind, too, now, that made Mrs. West shiver a little and 
that drove before it tiny clouds of the dry powdery snow. 
In spite of the increasing cold and Cross's silence, Mrs. 
West was too much occupied in watching tiiiis new coun- 
try to notice anything amiss. 

'There's g<rin' to be a squall," he said once; 

'Oh, how interesting," cried Mrs. West, whose mood 
was still to find pleasure in everything. 






Constance West 



"Interesting?" growled Cross. "Maybe, only I wish I 
wasn't drivin' colts tiiat have never been on the trail be- 
fore. And I ain't fixed for a storm, neither." 

Even the uneasiness that Cross showed did not affect 
Mrs. West's spirits. She did not connect the idea of a 
storm with any danger or even serious discomfort. Then 
suddenly, as it seemed to her with absolutely no warning, 
the storm burst. With a rush the wind leaped upon them, 
a shower of frozen snow borne upon its wings, and 
Cross pulled round the horses that could not face the 
biting, icy hail. 

"I'll make for Simpson's," he shouted in her ear ; "over 
that ridge. Say, but that come quick." 

She did not quite catch the words for she, too, was 
bending low before the storm, the sudden rush of the 
blizzard that few can face and live. The changed direc- 
tion of the cutter brought now the wind to their backs 
so that they could sit upright more easily, and Cross 
shouted again that he would make for Simpson's beyond 
the ridge. 

"It's too sudden to last long," screamed Cross in her 
ear, "don't get scared." 

Mrs. West smiled, for though the cold was bitter and 
the driving snow stung like innumerable tiny blows, she 
saw no reason for fear and was in fact rather enjoying the 
experience. She had winced and felt a little afraid, in- 
deed, when first the storm had thrown itself upon them 
with such malign intensity; driving before it the snow 
in great clouds till all the air was so thick with the flying, 
frozen particles that not one yard could they see before 
them. But now that tiiie sleigh had been turned so that 
it beat less effectually at their backs she had laughed at 



Constance West 



((• 
4C 



herself and muttered that she would feel quite an old 
resident with such an experience to talk of. 

This reflection seemed to please her very much and she 
was repeating to herself "Quite an old resident/' when 
suddenly the sleigh gave a lurch and tilted to one side, 
the horses^ that had been just visible, disappeared in a 
cloud of snow and next moment she herself shot through 
the air and fell softly and quite unhurt into a drift near. 
The sleigh stood up on one end, and Cross, dimly seen 
through the fl3ring snow, appeared inextricably mixed up 
with his floundering team. 

Suddenly he stood beside her and helped her to regain 
her feet 

'Are you hurt?" he demanded. 
'Not in the least," she answered. "What happened?" 
1 had to let 'em pick their own way 'cause I couldn't 
see," he explained hurriedly, "and they landed right in a 
ravine full of snow. Say, you walk right oh over the 
ridge and you'll strike Simpson's. Hustle and tell 'em I 
want help the worst kind of way. I daren't leave the 
colts." 

"But I don't know the way," said Mrs. West, hesitating 
a little. 

"You can't miss it," urged Cross. "Not if you tried. 
Straight on and not a hundred yards. There's the pas- 
ture fence you must strike just ahead and you only want 
to follow that Hustle, and tell 'em to hustle or I'll lose 
my team, maybe." 

His evident anxiety impressed her, and a hundred yards 
did not seem far. And floatingly it appeared to her desir- 
able that she should begin her sojourn in this new country 
by showing herself strong and capable. 



riM 



Constance West 



u 

€( 
it 



Very well," she said and started off. 
Keep the storm at your back/' he shouted after her, 
and you just can't miss it" 
Then he went back to his horses, struggling in the 
drift into which they had fallen. 



6 



CHAPTER II 




^HE wind howled about her, the flying frozen 
snow beat all around, the fury of the storm 
became greater, seeming to attack her with 
malign intention; and Mrs. West began to 
grow confused. She pushed on as fast as she could^ 
but she felt helplessly sure she had gone more than a 
hundred yards, and yet she saw no sign of either fence 
or buildings. The clouding snow, dense as any fog, ob- 
scured her sight, and even familiar objects took on quite 
strange shapes, so that she walked dose to a wagon and 
had no idea she had passed such evidence of human 
proximity. "Keep the storm to your back," Cross had 
called after her, but she was not experienced enough to 
note that the wind had veered half round, so that the di- 
rection no longer held good to take her to Simpson's 
farm. 

She half ran for a few yards further, and then she grew 
afraid. She remembered stories she had heard of these 
western blizzards, of farmers wandering for days in their 
own fields and dying within a stone's throw of their 
homes ; stories, too, of people disappearing and never be- 
ing seen again till the melting snow disclosed their bodies. 
She tried to retrace her steps, she ran in confused direc- 
tions, she began to call for help. For the moment she 
was panic stricken, and then by an effort she recovered 
her nerv^> 



Constance West 



"But I will not die/' she said fiercely. "I did not come 
so far to die." She set her lips more firmly together and 
resolved that she would not again give way; that she 
would struggle on so long as any strength remained. ''I 
will not die," she repeated and again ; "not yet, not till I 
have seen him again." She thought of why she had 
come to this country and the memory warmed her like a 
cordial. "For his sake," she said, "I will not die — ^not 
till he knows I have forgiven him." 

Fortunately the worst fury of the storm, too sudden, 
as Cross had said, to last for long, was already exhausted, 
though still the wind blew and still the air was obscured 
with fast driving clouds of snow. Mrs. West did not 
know what would be the wisest course to follow, but in- 
stinct told her she must remain in movement so long as 
her strength lasted. On and on she walked, imagining 
that she had gone far and not knowing that she was 
circling back to the trail where Cross had left it Then 
suddenly there came to her ears the sound of little bells, 
tinkling merrily, and evidently approaching her. 

"Sleigh bells," she cried ; "oh, how fortunate." 

She ran in the direction from which the sound seemed 
to come and almost immediately, for the wind was grow- 
ing calmer and the air clear of the flying snow, she saw 
a sleigh coming towards her at a rapid rate. She shouted 
excitedly in her sudden relief. As it reached her, it 
stopped short and there was a little cry of amazement 

"Whyl" came a girl's clear young voice. "Are you 
alone? On foot? Is anything wrong?" 

Mrs. West went to the side of the sleigh and began to 
explain. She saw that the girl who had spoken was the 
only occupant. Her words came quickly in her relief at 

lo 



->«■•.'..«. 



Constance West 



no longer being alone in the storm; by her agitation 
her recent fear was plainly visible. 

Before she was half way through her account, she was 
almost pulled inside and was c(xnfortably placed beneath 
rugs and warm furs with her feet resting on something 
pleasantly warm — a hot stone she found afterwards. 

"Mind you brush oflf the dry snow," said the girl, as she 
settled her comfortably, "or it will melt and that's horrid. 
Are you comfortable now?" 

"Oh, quite, thanks,'* answered Mrs. West, glancing at 
her companion with interest ; but she was so well wrapped 
up, her face hidden by a huge upturned fur collar and 
a warm cap drawn far down, that little could be seen 
except a pair of merry brown eyes and a mouth and nose 
that if large were at any rate well shaped. 

"But how did it happen?" she asked. "Why! you 
might have been lost for ever so long," 

Mrs. West gave a brief account of her drive, and her 
rescuer, whose name was Annie — ^Annie Leigh— cried 
out in indignaticm. 

"It was too bad,** she exclaimefl, "to send you oflP 
through such a storm, and you a stranger ; why, he ought 
to be ashamed — real ashamed." 

Mrs. West went on with her story and Annie's indig- 
nation grew more intense. 

"It was just a real shame," she said angrily. "You 
were going to Big End then ?" 
'Yes, is it far?" 

^No," answered Annie, and turned her horse down 
another trail that was quite invisible to Mrs. West. "I'll 
take you there. That man Cross is not fit to be trusted 
with anything but a yoke of oxen," 






II 



Constance West 



'"Oh, I couldn't think of letting you do that/' said 
Mrs. West, but Annie declared that it was not far and 
that she would have plenty of time. 

**You see the storm is clearing now/' she said; '*it is 
quite bright again/' 

"But you are going in another direction/* 

"But you couldn't walk/' said Annie laughing gaily. 
"And I don't want to leave you with such bad impressions 
of us. We don't usually send strangers wandering about 
tiie prairie in a blizzard, you know." 

"But I have no bad impressions I" declared Mrs. West 
quickly. "I think everything is delightful." 

"Even blizzards?" 

"Oh, it was quite an interesting experience. And 
really I am sure I shall like everything intensely." 

She spoke with an obvious sincerity that gratified 
Annie since to her the country was very dear. They 
went on talking as they drove along and Mrs. West 
gathered that Annie was the only daughter of a widowed 
farmer, that she had never lived anywhere but in this 
remote district, though her grandmother had given her 
a fairly good education, and that she had just been re- 
turning from Big End when she had met Mrs, West. 

'And saved my life, I think," said Mrs. West. 

'Oh, no," answered Annie blushingly ; "there was not 
much real danger. See how fine it is now." 

Indeed the squall had quite passed away and except 
that the trail was drifted over with snow so that a 
stranger could hardly have found it, scarcely any trace 
of the recent storm remained. The sun was again shin- 
ing and everjiliing seemed calm and peaceful ; the white 
snow sparkling brightly in the sun^ although so lately 

12 



it 

Hi 



Constance West 



it had hurtled through the air with such swift and 
vehement hostility. 

Before long, for most of the distance had been covered 
with Cross, before the bursting of the squall, Annie was 
able to point out the village, a little group of straggling 
houses with the tall grain elevators standing up along 
the railway, black beneath their snow covered roofs. 

"That is Big End,'' she said. "We shall be there 
soon now." 

"Then you must come no further," said Mrs. West 
"Let me walk from here, you have ccwne far enough out 
of your way already." 

"I couldn't dream of such a thing," said Annie in 
obvious surprise at the suggestion and touching her horse 
with the whip. 

"But you must," insisted Mrs. West ; "you told me you 
had been late starting and that your father would be 



anxious." 



€ii 



Oh, but I didn't mean," cried Annie in a little panic 
of fear lest some hint had been suspected. 

"I know you didn't," answered Mrs. West with a 
friendly smile. "But you see we are quite close now. 
You must really come no further." 

"I simply couldn't think of it," said Annie witli mudi 
decision. 

"But I wbuld really prefer it," repeated Mrs. West. 
Annie still protested vehemently, but Mrs. West in- 
sisted and finally prevailed over the girl's objections. 
Very reluctantly she stopped the sleigh and allowed Mrs. 
West to alight 

Though, after all," she added brightening up a little, 
we have come most of the way, haven't we?" 

13 






Constance West 



"Nearly a mile since I told you to stop," said Mrs- 
IWest, laughing. "It was too bad of you." 

Bidding each other good-bye, Mrs. West again de- 
clared with earnestness her gratitude for her rescue and 
Annie said that she had to be in town again the next day 
and would be sure to see her. 

"A singularly nice girl," murmured Mrs. West as she 
stopped and waved to Annie who was loddng back and 
leaning from the sleigh. "A remarkably nice girl aiid I 
really think she saved my life in that awful storm. And 
I never asked her name. I wonder if John knows her. 
Poor John, dear John, how surprised he will be to hear 
I have already made a friend and had my first Canadian 
adventure." 

She glanced from the sleigh, already at a considerable 
distance, to the little village before her and then at the 
great white plain that stretched so far away on either 
hand. Suddenly it seemed to oppress her, solitary and 
alone, with a sense of her own insignificance, and then 
again a wave of hesitation overtodc her. She wished she 
had never started on this journey; she wished she were 
back at the Big Horn depot with the opportunity to return 
by the eastward train. She looked about her and now 
everything seemed bare and cold and desolate. 

From a little isolated country village in the English mid- 
lands, bowered in trees and surrounded by deep lanes, 
where everything spoke of peace and man's settled do- 
minion over Nature, she had come to this other village, 
even more isolated, standing bare and assertive on the open 
snow-covered prairie, almost visibly combative, with 
lying around it the raw new lands, marked with the evi- 
dence of man's still uncompleted struggle. Mrs. West 

14 



Constance West 



looked about her with a little shudder, and again it came 
to her mind that she should return ; for with the end of 
her journey so near her mind was troubled and her 
errand showed itself in new lights. Almost it seemed 
to her that the crude hardness of the new lands, showing i 
through the snow that here was hard and frozen and 
sparkling, called out to her, appealing to the harder qual- 
ities in herself. Her mind went back to earlier days and 
past events. 

''Shall I, shall I return?" she said to herself, walking 
quickly up and down the trail to keep herself warm, yet 
careful to approach no nearer the village. "Oh, shall I re- 
turn?" 

She remembered how twenty years before — ^twenty 
years — she had left the church on her wedding day, 
walking by the side of the man she loved, and thinking 
to herself that this time at least the course of true love 
had run smoothly. Then, within three months of her 
wedding, she had found in her husband a but half con- 
quered tendency to excessive drinking. She shivered 
afresh as she remembered the agony of that discovery, 
and then she thought with a warming heart of his sor- 
row, his shame, his efforts, his struggles to conquer the 
temptation. He had been a very handsome lad, strong 
and tall, and he had trusted her so implicitly, had looked 
to her so confidently for help. She felt the old love again, 
the love she had once thought dead, but that of late 
had lived again, and her face softened as she remembered 
that he had loved her very deeply. 

Almost he had thrown off the habit, almost— till one 
day of excitement when he had come home with flushed 
face and wild eyes and she had smelt the brandy he had 

IS 



Constance West 



been drinking. She remembered her shamed and bitter 
anger, and thought again as she had thought so many 
times of late, that a little more kindness in her indigna- 
tion might have made all the difference. He had gqat out 
and returned and again she seemed to see herself in angry 
scorn, scourging him with slow bitter words, dropping 
scorn like vitriol, justly enough as regarded his drinking, 
unjustly when, infuriated, she had called up half held 
jealousy and coupled his name with that of a girl cousin. 
Even at the mcHnent she had known how far astray her 
anger was taking her and had felt degraded by the words 
that still she flung at him, sullenly listening. 

And then — the catastrophe — ^the brandy and the rage 
hot in him, like fire in his veins, till at yet another and 
more bitter word^ with a sudden movement he had struck 
her down. She remembered the crashing blow and the 
swift darkness, and how even as she fell, her spirit had 
leaped in sorrow for him and the remorse she knew that 
he would feel. Reflectively she put up her hand and 
touched the scar and that left eye, blind since then. 

For a month she had lain in the hospital and he in 
prison, while they waited to see whether she would live or 
die. And then that most dreadful day of all, when her 
shame and his had been laid bare for all the world to see. 
She remembered the court, crowded with white faces that 
all stared, till she saw nothing save everywhere eyes and 
eyes and always eyes. Her friends, her enemies, her ac- 
quaintances and utter strangers, all had stared together, 
making her shame a common show. At the time she had 
felt that the blow she might forgive, but not this, not 
tills exposure. How she had hated them all; all — from 
the round-eyed gaping child that sat ignorantly on its 



i6 



Constance West 



mother's knee to the smug chairman of the magistrates 
with his platitudes and his odious sympathy. 

He had been sentenced to a term of imprisonment and 
she had left the neighbourhood immediately. She knew 
that he repented bitterly, but when a letter reached bef 
from him soon after his release, she returned it utl« 
opened. She heard in silence that he was about to sail 
for New York and when his father came to see her, to 
plead his son's sorrow, dhie returned no word but a 
bitter desire that she might never see his face again« 
For ten years she hugged her wrath to her soul 
saying, like the prophet of old, "I do well to be angry/* 
and for ten years more she had striven still to keep ity 
while slowly the memory of the wrong done slipped away 
and the old love grew again — for he had been very deaf 
to her. It had been a long and bitter struggle between 
them — between her anger and her love. "You are well 
rid of him," the magistrate had said, and for ten years 
she had believed him and for another ten years she 
strove to believe him. And she had been very lonely. 
At last she found where he had gone and now, after more 
than four thousand miles of travel, there was but one 
more between them, and yet that one more seemed longer 
than all those together, long and many and very weary, 
that lay behind her. 

Very slowly she began to walk down the track. She 
pictured him to herself. It did not occur to her that he 
must have altered in appearance, that he might have 
changed in mind and temperament. To her he was what 
he had been — ^the bright, eager, handsome, hot-tempered 
youth. He stood before her, merry and excited, as he had 
done on the morning of the dreadful day that had ruined 



17 



B 



Constance West 



them bothy and she felt that his punishment had lasted 
long enough. 

''It has been long enough, too long/' she said aloud, and 
now, her doubts and her hesitations altogether gone, she 
began to walk quickly towards the village, at times almost 
to run. "Poor John! Poor John, twenty years— oh! it 
was wrong, it was foolish, cruel to wait so long when I 
knew you were so sorry." 

She pressed on, looking about her brightly. She felt 
an inclination to laugh, for the first time for twenty years 
she hummed a little snatch of song to herself. It seemed 
to her that she had been living in dreadful darkness from 
which she had suddenly emerged to find everything bright 
and beautiful. Now her only desire was to see her 
husband, to tell him she forgave, to see the half doubting 
happiness leap to his face, and then, when he under- 
stood, to feel his strong arms crush her to him — ttie 
harder, the tighter, the more fiercely, the happier she 
would be. 

"Poor John," she murmured as she went, and she 
found that she was crying softly. "Dear John," she 
said with lingering tenderness. 



i8 



CHAPTER III 



TEN years before a stranger from the States, giv- 
ing his name as Tom Deegan, had arrived at 
Big End, and seeing an opening in the hotel 
business had promptly established himself 
there. As there was no house available he had built one 
for himself, doing the greater part of the work with his 
own hands. Though not a very pretentious edifice, its 
owner regarded it with great pride. It was a square 
frame building with a deep verandah in front and, as 
Deegan was rather fond of remarking, "it was three steps 
high," though it is true the third floor was only repre- 
sented by two attics. It possessed only six bed-rooms 
and two public apartments, the bar and' dining room ; 
but the inhabitants admired his pluck, took his enter- 
prise as a compliment to the possibilities of the town, and 
Deegan found no difficulty in obtaining a licence and a 
fair share of patronage. 

The other hotel was owned by a man named Cameron, 
who, in the possession of a monopoly had grown care- 
less ; but, on finding a tendency among his customers to 
) depart to Deegan's, he had become alarmed and so a 
strong rivalry had at one time grown up between them. 
Now, however, things were fairly adjusted between them, 
and each had grown accustomed to the opposition of the 
other. 

Of the two hotels, the "Deegan House" as its pro- 
prietor loved to call it, or "Deegan's" as it was more 



19 



Constance West 



generally and more simply known, or the "Diggin's" as 
young and humorous Englishmen were wont to name 
it, was on the whole the more popular. In the comity 
of Big End, it, with Cameron's always as a rival, took 
the place of club and social centre, and at night its bar* 
room was generally well filled. In one respect, however, 
Cameron's held an undisputed advantage. Mrs. Cam- 
eron was a good cook, and by general consent her din- 
ners were by far the best to be obtained in town. 

For ten years De^fan lived thus in moderate pros- 
perity, appreciating it to the full by contrast with his 
younger days and growing to think of it as permanent and 
natural, as part of the established order of things. He 
began to dress rather carefully, with a sense of his posi- 
tion as a prominent citizen. He even sent to Winnipeg 
for most of his clothing and his ties were of many col- 
ours. He took on flesh, too, and his once lean face grew 
round and fat He possessed his soul in quietness and 
content, and his active hatred for Cameron changed into 
a mere mild dislike. He now had a theory that hard 
work could do anything and everything, and pointed to 
his hotel "built with my own hands" as proof, and he 
grew rather hard and suspicious towards those not so 
prosperous as himself. But on the whole he experienced 
a deep seated content towards life, and his character 
apparently quite changed, so that he hardly seemed the 
same as the eager restless man of fierce activity and 
harsh temper, who had first appeared in Big End. 

Yet on this day (as he sat by himself in the empty 
dining room, warming himself before the stove and 
wondering whether the sudden storm would induce any 
of his dinner-guests to stay all night, he was more like 

20 



Constance West 



his old self. Lately a strong prohibitionist sentiment 
had swept through the country and at Big End had re* 
suited in an agitation to do away with the licence of 
one of the hotels. Cameron was not only the older estab- 
lished, but he also had a large family of young children, 
and therefore Deegan knew that if a licence were re- 
voked it would be his. This seemed to him quite obvious 
and natural, perhaps from some vague sentiment of 
chivalry towards the hardworked mother of so many 
little children for it was well known that Mrs. Guneron 
did most of the work of their hotel. Though this was a 
feeling he could not even have attempted to put into 
words, he, and indeed all concerned, entertained it sim- 
ply as a matter of course, for simple minded and primi- 
tive country folk sometimes allow sentimental considera- 
tions to interfere most oddly with business matters. But 
all the same Deegan cherished hot and fiery indignation 
against the prime movers of the agitation ; and on this 
day he was both angry and discomposed over some re- 
ports that had reached him of a new movement in the 
affair. 

"Oh, curse 'em" he muttered ; "why can't they leave an 
honest man alone? Seems most as though I was always 
to be hunted around and never allowed to rest in peace 
like other folks. The mean, lying — " 

Muttering thunderously he turned his head on hear- 
ing a slight noise and started to find a woman standing 
in the doorway watching him. It was Mrs. West, who 
had found her way to the hotel with but little difficulty, 
but, who, unused to Western hostelries, felt now a little 
awkward and not quite sure she had come to the right 
place. 



21 



Constance West 



Without moving — ^be was lying back in the chair with 
his feet on the stove — ^he looked at her and wondered 
who she might be. So far as he knew, and of course his 
bar was the centre for all the gossip of the neighbour- 
hood, no one was expecting any visitor and certainly no 
stranger had arrived by the train that day. With curios- 
ity he wondered how and when she had arrived and 
he took note of her appearance so as to be able to 
describe her in the saloon that evening to see if any one 
recognized her. As she looked at him Deegin was 
suddenly aware of an impulse to take his feet off the 
stove and sit upright, and so, resenting the impression, 
he leaned further back and taking out a plug of tobacco, 
bit off a piece and began to chew it vigorously. 

"I beg your pardon," said Mrs. West, still standing 
in the doorway, '"this is the hotel, I think. Can I get 
anything to eat here, do you know ?" 

"Why, certainly," he ^swered, though without mov- 
ing. 

At another time she might have been vexed, but now 
she only smiled. 

"WTio should I ask?" she said, after a Uttle pause. 

"Tain't time yet," he explained gruffly, and then add- 
ed : "Dinner, twelve to two. Supper at six." 

"Oh," she exclaimed, evidently rather taken aback; 
"must I wait till then?" 

"Them's the hours," answered Deegan. He squirted 
tobacco juice at a distant spittoon with accuracy and 
then observed: "Come far?" 

"From England." 

"England, eh?" he repeated with obvious disparage- 



22 



t. 



Constance West 



ment ''Sleepy place that. We's all alive here and don't 
you forget it" 

"Oh, are you?" 

"You bet Going to stay here? Got any folk 
around?" Deegan's tone was a little less gnxft now, 
he had worked off the worst of his temper and meant 
these questions to show a friendly interest. Besides he 
was beginning to feel a little ashamed of his gruffness; 
the more so he felt that this was, as he expressed it to 
himself, "a kinder high toned lady." Mrs. West was 
half amused, half annoyed ; but now nothing had power 
to vex her for long — ^she could only see the most pleasant 
side of everything. 

"My name is West," she said; "and I did think of 
staying here a short time. And though England may 
be sleepy, I could always get something to eat there if I 
were hungry." 

"The Deegan House rules are never broken," answered 
Deegan. "Why, I wouldn't break 'em if Queen Victoria 
was to come in her crown and ask me herself." 

"Well, I am only a very ordinary woman," said Mrs. 
West, secretly amused, "but I am very hungry." She 
looked at him again and meeting his glance she smiled. 
"I am really very tired," she added ; "I have had no din- 
ner as yet" 

"Gosh I" he cried, bringing his feet down with a crash 
and nearly upsetting himself. "I'll hustle Pierre around, 
and mebbe we'll get something — ^though the Deegan 
House is mighty particular about hours." 

He disappeared as he spoke, and Mrs. West looked 
after him with an amused smile. 

I do believe he went just because I smiled instead of 



«i 



23 



Constance West 



being cross/' she murmured and again she smiled to her- 
self. 'Toor dear John/* she said, as though she saw 
some connection. The hard look on her face softened 
and the lines at the comers of her mouth disappeared, 
and then a faint — a very faint — blush showed on either 
cheek. "It is so long since I thought of such things/* 
she murmured, "but I do wonder if I — ^if I am really 
ugly now. Years ago I suppose I was not bad looking — 
years ago, long ago/' She blushed again and shook her 
head with a petulant movement, as though vexed with 
herself. "But perhaps John may not be exactly ashamed 
of me, if I am getting old and worn, and certainly to- 
day I do feel strangely young again; strangely, almost 
absurdly young/' she repeated as though to deprecate 
her own annoyance. 

She began to walk about the room, glancing round 
her and noticing everything with the eager pleasure of 
a child. Not being able to see. with the left eye, 
she had acquired a trick of putting her head sharply to 
one side to get fuller views, and this, together with her 
slight active form, gave her a curiously birdlike appear- 
ance. 

"Twenty years," she said once. " It is a long time — a 
long time to have suflFered, but now we will be happy 
again — ^as I am already, as I am already/' And sud- 
denly she laughed with the low full laughter of exquisite 
joy. 

In a few moments Deegan returned, bearing some 
dishes which he placed upon one of the tables. 

"Now, ma'am," he said, "there's some grub— a meal, 
I mean — ^ready for you. I have to be particular about 



24 



Constance West 



hours, you see, or the boys would just come in any old 
tune." 

''Thank you so much/' she answered as she sat down. 
"I am sorry to have disturbed you." 

Deegan tock a seat liear so that partly he watched 
her and partly the door in case any one else entered. He 
surveyed Mrs. West with benevolence, for he felt that 
he had been very good to her and quite redeemed his 
character for politeness, and he wished to confirm the 
good impression he felt he had made. He wished for an 
opportunity to tell her that Cameron would not have 
done such a thing. He got her one or two little things 
she wanted and he had forgotten and made a casual re* 
mark now and again, extracting from her a short ac- 
count of her arrival. Presently she observed, wishing 
to acknowledge his attention, — 

"How nice you have everything here." 

"Fair, ma'am, only fair," he answered, but evidently 
much pleased at the compliment. "You see," he added 
with a burst of confidence, "I have no cook — ^nothing but 
a little Frenchman." 

"That must be dreadfully awkward." 

"It is so, ma'am; you see, you, bein' a woman, nat- 
urally catches on ; but the boys only swear at the French- 
nMin. The trouble is, they all get married." 

"Who?" asked Mrs. West gravely. "The cooks or 
the Frenchman?" 

"The cooks, of course ; not likely any one would take 
a little chattering Frenchman except out of charity. I 
took this one to clean out the stables but Polly skipped 
without a day's warning, so I asked him if he thought 
be could keep bis end up in the kitchen. I'll allow he 



25 



Constance West 






does his best, but if you believe me» he has simply no 
notion of making pie." 

"Dear me 1" said Mrs. West; "and did Polly get mar- 
ried thenr 

"She did so— the ungrateful little cat — I brought her 
out from Chicago myself, and she got hitched in a 
month. Now, ma'am, I ask you what encouragement is 
there in that?" 

Mrs. West smiled again and Deegan continued, full 
of his wrongs, — 

"That's the third time I've got left, but never again. 
Why, that there Polly had the blame impudence to send 
her fellow over to ask for a weddin' present" 
And did you give him one?" 

I booted him out quicker nor a Chinaman could plant 
the ace of spades," said Deegan with some satisfaction. 
"But that didn't get me my cook back. Now the boys 
ask for pie every day just because they know the little 
Frenchman can't do 'em." 

"It's too bad," said Mrs. West sympathetically, 
"There's only one thing that I can see." 
What is it?" asked Deegan eagerly. 
Marry the next one yourself." 
Not much; no, sir," he cried, with such vehemence 
that she broke into a merry peal of laughter, and he 
grinned, too, in S3mipathy. 

"I beg your pardon," she said as she recovered her 
composure. "Really I don't know when I have laughed 
like that" Her face became suddenly grave for she did 
know; she remembered vividly how twenty years before 
her husband had come home with some joke over which 
they had laughed together — ^that was the last time. They 

26 



"] 



Constance West 



had laughed so happily together — and then — and then-« 
only the next dayl 

''Bless you» ma'am/' said Deegan, misunderstanding 
her change of manner. "I don't mind. I suppose now, 
Mrs. West, ma'am" — ^he hesitated and then continued, — 
"I suppose you are fixed all right — ^you wouldn't care to 
take it on ?" 

Mrs. West shot a rapid glance at him. The spirit of 
mischief flashed across her face that for so long had 
known only tears and then — she could not resist the im- 
pulse, for her spirits were extraordinarily high : — 

"Which?" she asked. 

"Which?" he repeated puzzled, and then with an abso- 
lute blush he cried: "Great Scot, ma'am; the cookin', of 
course, not the marryin'." He looked so startled that 
she laughed again and he grinned and added : "Though, 
I guess, mebbe — " 

"In any case I am afraid I am — ^fixed," interrupted 
Mrs. West with some haste. 

"I knew it," he answered sadly. "I reckoned you 
would be too high toned for the job. Likely you have 
folk out here?" 

"Yes," she answered. 

Suddenly she found her cheeks were burning and she 
felt a great wonder at herself. To her relief some one 
outside called to Deegan and he hurried away, leaving 
her alone. She began to recover her composure a lit- 
tle and went to stand near the window, of double panes 
so that it was clear of frost. She thought again as she 
looked out at the empty snow-covered street, of the long 
lonely years and the weary journey that now was done. 
She thought of the climax, now so near, when she would 



27 



Constance West 



tee her husband again, and she was a little surprised 
at herself to find a relief in the knowledge that she could 
not see him until the next day. And she wondered, too, 
at the happiness, the excited joy that possessed her ; she 
felt that this bare ugly room was better to her than any 
palace, and she remembered Deegan's rough talk as a 
miracle of homely wit and observation. She saw every- 
thing colored with her inward happiness and she mur- 
mured softly to herself: "To-morrow,** and then "Dear 
John'* and happy tears stole down her cheeks as she 
thought of that meeting, and his joy, and their renewed 
happiness that was to be. "Will he feel as happy as I 
do?*' she whispered to herself and her heart answered her 
that he would be even happier. So she sat and dreamed 
till presently she heard Deegan's footsteps. He came 
into the room again and she began to ask him questions 
about the neighbourhood; and so presently came to the 
one name that really interested her. 

"And Leigh?" she asked, quite pleased with herself 
that she pronounced the name with apparent unconcern. 
"Is there any one of that name ? John Leigh," she added 
permitting herself to linger over the words with delicious 
fondness. 

"Oh, yes ; there's old man Leigh and John Leigh, too — 
they ain't friends of yours?" 

"No," she answered; "not — ^not friends." A warm 
happiness swept through her and she had to stoop and 
pretend to pick up something that her burning face might 
not proclaim her secret "No, not friends," she repeated. 

A sense of the absurdity of such a word came over her 
a^nd she had to struggle not to laugh, but Deegan did not 

28 



Constance West 



€4* 



notice anything for he was scowling and muttering 
ang^y to himself. 

'He says he's English, too/* he observed presently. 

'Don't you believe him?" 

'There's something almighty queer about 'him, any- 
way. As for being English, they are mostly a poor mean 
lot, but I don't reckon he's one. I heard him ask for 
apple^ie once." 

"But"— said Mrs. West puzzled. "I don't quite see—" 

"Well," he explained, "an Englishman always says 
happle-pie, if you notice." 

"Oh," said Mrs. West. "But do they aU?" she ven- 
tured. 

"All," answered Deegan with decision. "You can al- 
ways tell 'em by that and their general meanness. If a 
fellow comes to my hotel and says he's an Englishman, 
I always ask for cash in advance ; and if be says he's ex- 
pecting a remittance from home, I just fire him out right 
away. English ladies is quite different," he added hastily, 
suddenly remembering and looking rather awkward. He 
continued to cover his confusion that if she liked, Mrs. 
Edwards, the baf-tender's wife, would take her to her 
room. He explained that she acted as house-keeper for 
him. Mrs. West was feeling very tired after her journey 
and was glad, though it was still quite early, to retire to 
rest herself. 

Accordingly he summoned Mrs. Edwards, an old, al- 
most infirm woman, and then just as Mrs. West was fol- 
lowing her from the room, he asked her again: 

"Say, you're certain that there John Leigh ain't no 
friend of yours?" 

"No," she answered slowly, "not a friend." A happy 



29 



Constance West 



smile played about her lips and as she followed her guide 
up the narrow stairs she repeated to herself : "No, not a 
friend, not a friend; ob, why did I wait all these years? 
No, not a friend."' 
61 Her lips lingered lovingly over the words. J 



*> 



CHAPTER IV 



ALTHOUGH at some inconvenience, Mrs, West 
had still been able to manage for the 
one night without her luggage, which of 
course had been left in the tram ; but it was 
with dismay that she found on coming down* 
stairs the next morning that it had not yet arrived The 
railway officials explained that the baggageman must 
have forgotten to put it out and promised to telegraph 
down the line and recover it for her by the evening. 
Mrs. West had arisen all afire witfi eager impatience to 
seek out her husband, but now she determined she must 
wait until she was able to change her dress and generally 
to tidy herself after her long journey. 

"He thought me pretty once — ^long ago," she said to 
herself. ''I must not give him a bad impression now, 
or let him think I have grown sloven as well as old." 

Determined then to wait till her luggage arrived, she 
finished her breakfast leisurely and after a little went out 
to survey the village. Her mind was full of pleasant 
anticipations as she started for her first walk m this 
place where he had sojourned for so long. She pictured 
him in her mind, striding along this sidewalk or stopping 
.to chat with some acquaintance at that comer. ''This 
very afternoon," she repeated to herself with a kind of 
wonder. She repressed an inclination to break into song 
as she left the hotel. 



sr 



Cofutance West 



After the storm of the day before the morning had 
broken bright and fine, the sun shining brilliantly. A 
gentle south-westerly wind was blowing and although 
Mrs. West did not know it, signs were that day apparent 
for the first time of the breaking up of the long frost. 
The snow, hitherto as hard and dry as crystals, was be- 
ginning to thaw in places; and each long icicle pendent 
from every place of vantage, was letting little gay-col- 
ored drops fall softly to the ground. There was a 
greater stir and bustle, too, in the village, as though in 
preparation for the renewed life of the spring. Mrs. 
West noticed how cheerfully were hailed the drivers of 
two or three teams that came in from the country, and 
she noticed, too, that she herself was an object of some 
interest, — a fact that amused her very much. 

She went on slowly, returning the scrutiny of the in- 
habitants with frank interest, and it seemed to her that 
she had never seen a more intelligent or amiable looking 
set of people. She contrasted favourably the smart brisk 
looking men with the slow heavy peasantry she had been 
used to, and she told herself that no one could have 
guessed these pleasant, neatly dressed women to live in 
so remote a district She pictured herself making their 
acquaintance, her husband introducing her, add she 
smiled to think of their surprise. She looked at the little 
frame houses, too, and found them charming; and de- 
cided that the stores would not have been out of place in 
a country town in England of ten times the size. Then 
she began to amuse herself by picking out among the 
people those with whom she thought she would become 
most friendly, and then with quite a keen sense of pleas-* 
tire she recognized her acquaintance of the day before. 

^'A really remarkably handsome girl/' she observed in 



3a 



Constance West 



an undertone as she caught sight of her, and she stopped 
to admire her. 

The girl was indeed really a striking figure, but not 
from any special beauty. Her features were too irreg* 
ular for that and her mouth too large; but she was of 
unusual height and she carried herself with a spring- 
ing^ strength that might well have attracted attention. 
To Mrs. West's fancy she would have formed a fitting 
heroine for some old Norse saga of battle and revenge; 
and she was still watching her with attention when a 
voice called "Miss Annie/' and a young man came out 
of one of the stores and hurried towards her. Mrs. 
West saw with increased interest that though not a par- 
ticularly small man, his height did not equal that of the 
girl he addressed. She herself was small and slender, 
and she had always had a particularly great admiration 
for physical strength and size — it was that which in 
days gone by had first attracted her to John Leigh, and 
that he should so misuse his great gift to which she had 
entrusted her protection, had been even in her deepest 
g^ief a yet added touch of degradation. 

Mrs. West waited a little until the young man turned 
away and then she moved forward. Annie, looking up, 
caught sight of her, and came quickly to meet her. 

"I am so glad to see you," said Mrs. West smiling as 
tiiey shook hands. ''It is quite a treat to meet some one 
who does not regard me as a curiosity." 

"You see they all know you are a stranger," answered 
Annie with a shy' smile that acknowledged the charm 
of the other's manner. "It is such a little place," she 
added with an air of apology. 

"Oh, I don't mind," said Mrs. West. "It is rather 
nice, I think, friendly." 



33 



Vofutance Went 



Annie glanced at her quickly, ready to resent any su»^ 
picion of irony, but obviously the words were sincere. 

**Isn't it vexing?*' continued Mrs. West, "my luggage 
has gone astray. I must buy some things I want Per- 
haps you can tell me where to go Y* 

She began to ask questions about the different stores, 
and she accepted Annie's advice on various little details. 
Walking up and down talking, and then consulting to- 
gether in the dry goods store, they became quite inti- 
mate. Mrs. West thought she had never met so pleasant 
and charming a girl, and Annie thanked the chance that 
had sent so desirable an addition to her scanty list of 
acquaintances. 

"Do you expect to be staying long ?" she asked once. 

"I think so," said Mrs. West slowly. She had a sud- 
den impulse to question the girl about her husband. But 
she remembered she had already inquired about him 
once, and that to ask again might possibly start some 
rumour. She felt it would be very dreadful if he were 
to gain any hint of her proximity save from herself 
alone, and so she put aside the impulse. "I rather hope 
so," she continued ; "it seems such a nice little place." 

"Well, I do hope you will," said Annie with frank 
friendliness, her heart still further won by this praise, 
since as a rule Big End did not earn very enthusiastic 
praise from its visitors. "There are so few people out 
here, you know; it is not like Chicago or Winnipeg. 
Perhaps you will find it a little strange, settling down 
here ; if you do, will you let me come to help you ? There 
are sure to be things that will seem strange at first — 
and you are not much used to roughing it, are you ?" 

"Why, no; I suppose not." Mrs. West looked down 
at herself with some amusement. It suddenly occurred 



34 



Constance West 



to her that her dress and whole appearance were not very 
appropriate to pioneer surroundings. She glanced up at 
Annie and they both laughed a tittle. 

''I don't suppose you have done much scrubbing or 
washing, have you T* asked Annie ; ''and here it is next 
to impossible to get any help/' 

"No-o," admitted Mrs. West, a little dismayed. "But 
I can learn/' she added more brightly and they both 
laughed again. 

At that moment the young man who had previously 
spoken to Annie came out of the store opposite and 
g^lanced about as though looking for her. 

"Will you excuse me just one moment?" said Annie as 
she saw him. "Mr. Briscoe is getting some nails and 
things for father." 

She went across to him and they spoke together for a 
moment, but apparently the point proved a difficult one 
to settle. They went together into the store, and after 
a moment or two, as Annie did not come out, Mrs. 
West walked a little way further up the street and went 
into the post-office to inquire for her letters. There 
were none — ^indeed there had been no time yet for any 
to overtake her — ^but the post-mistress was very inquisi- 
tive and even Mrs. West's determination to be pleased 
at ever3rthing broke down a little before her persistent 
cross-questioning. It was some minutes before she could 
even get assured that there were no letters, and when 
at last she did escape outside, hoping to see again Annie, 
to whom she had taken a strong liking, the girl had 
disappeared. For some time Mrs. West wandered on, 
quietly happy, dreaming of the man she had not seen 
for twenty years, whom she had left under stress of in- 
tolerable provocation, but whom she had always loved. 



35 



Constance West 



It did not occur to her that his love might not have sur* 
vived the long separation — if that possibility had been 
suggested to her she would have laughed it away, for 
she knew the strength and simplicity of his nature and 
on it rested her faith securely. She felt that their love 
was yet as strong, in spite of all that had happened, as on 
the morning of their marriage day. She wandered on, 
drawing great breaths of the invigorating prairie air, and 
it was to her as though the last twenty years had not 
existed — ^had been but an ugly dream. 

"How young I feel,'* she murmured once, detecting 
in herself an inclination to laugh at trifles. "How 
strangely young," she murmured again. 

She wandered on through the little settlement. She 
made one or two trifling purchases more and then — ^the 
day continuing very fine — ^she went on a little beyond the 
houses to the open prairie. Ever}rthing was so novel and 
her day dreams so pleasant, that she did not notice how 
the time passed till suddenly she found it getting late. 
She remembered that the hotel keeper, Deegan, had 
spoken of noon for dinner, and that he had seemed very 
particular about meal hours. She at once started back 
for the hotel walking rather quickly ; everjrthing seemed 
to her so pleasant that she did not wish to annoy any one, 
even in trifles. However it was later than she had thought, 
and dinner was nearly over when she arrived ; the room 
when she entered being empty but for Deegan himself, 
and one other man who greeted her with an embarrassed 
grin and in whom she recognized, after a moment's hesi- 
tation, Jim Cross, her driver of the day before. As soon 
as he saw her enter Deegan came up to tell her her 
luggage had arrived, news she was very glad to re- 
ceive. Then he brought her her dinner, explaining that 

36 



MM 



Constance West 






the little cuss of a Frenchman'' was busy washing up» 
Say/' he said abruptly as she began to eat "You 
know that there John Leigh you was askin' about a 
while back?" 

''Yes/' she answered bending over her plate, fearing 
she would surely betray herself by the colour that flamed 
in her cheeks whenever he was mentioned 

"I saw his cutter in town — ^this morning/' 

"Oh/' she said faintly. 

It made her heart go wildly to think she might have 
been near to him — ^might even have met him. A hun- 
dred questions came to her mind. How would he have 
looked? What would he have said? Would he have 
altered much ? By a great eflFort she recovered her self- 
possession and looked up, fearing Deegan might have 
noticed her agitation. But he was looking away from her 
and drumming angrily upon the table with the handle of 
a knife, while Cross remained apparently engrossed with 
his meal. 

You're sure he ain't no friend?" continued I>eegan. 
Not a friend exactly/' answered Mrs. West with her 
secret amusement at such a term applied to the man for 
whose sake she had come so far. "But why?" 

"Because some day/' said Deegan solemnly, "him and 
me's goin' to scrap, and when we do you want to take a 
ticket for the front row, for the show'll be worth seein'— 
and that's a fact" 

"To — to — " she repeated. She did not quite under- 
stand, but she gathered that there was a quarrel of some 
sort between them, "But why ?" she asked. 

"Him and his pa — old man Leigh — are prohibitionists, 
ma'am, the — ^the dodrotted worms, and they want to close 
down this hotet— the De^an House of Big End— -doing 

37 



€1' 



Constance We$l 



their lerel best, toa Want the boys to live oa cold oof^ 
fee and butteimilk,* he added with a gesture of infinite 

''Indeed/' said Mrs. West, but she did not find this 
news surprising — plainly it was one side of her husband's 
repentance* 

''He ain't no chicken,'' continued Deegan gloomily, 
'"and I have been there before ; so him and me'll have a 
regular picnic together want day. His pa's too old to 
touch, or I'd lay for him first, seein' he's the worst, if 
anything." 

"Is he?" 

"Yes, there's something queer about him — ^John Leigh. 
Folks do say he did a murder in the old country, and I 
shouldn't wonder a great deal if it wasn't true. If you'll 
believe me, ma'am, he always acts as though he was 
kinder scared of whisky." 

'Scared — frightened of it?" 

Tes, ma'am; sounds childish and unnatural, I know. 
But I took out a glass to him one day, wantin' to be 
friendly, an' he never said a word — ^just whipped up his 
horse and lit out like wild Indians was after him." 

"Poor fellow, poor, poor fellow," murmured Mrs. West, 
and there was an infinite tenderness in her tone — it 
seemed to show all he had suffered, the picture of that 
strong man galloping away at the mere sight of his 
imcient enemy. Her whole heart yearned towards him. . 

"Yes'm ; and then one day his daughter — " ^ 

"His what?" said Mrs. West, and her voice was low 
and terrible. 

"His daughter. Miss Annie — ^I heard you was chattin' 
to her this momin' ixi town." 






38 



. ^P— I— »^«— — — — — — I ■ » I I I I ■ ■ ' ■ I 11^1^— ■■■! ItllM ■■■■■ 1^^— — ^ 

Constance West 

''His what, his what ?" said Mrs. West again, as though 
slie had not heard. 

"Why, that tall gir!, Miss Annie/' answered Deegan 
Again, a little annoyed at having to repeat his words. 

''She— was she his daughter? And his wife then?" 

"Oh, she's dead, died a while back, she was a New 
Yorker — he married her soon as he came to this country, 
I believe. Anyway, he's awful fond of the girl 'cause 
she's like her ma." 

"Oh," said Mrs. West, the little groan forcing itself 
between clenched teeth. That he could be so faith- 
less to her and so soon — ^to marry again though he knew 
she was alive, to marry again with his words of sorrow 
and remorse hot upon his tongfue, to marry again and 
so soon, to marry again with the still fresh memory of the 
wrong he had done her that yet could not prevent him 
from doing her one greater still, to marry again and 
cherish a child in memory of this dead intruder. Mrs. 
West felt as though all things earthly slipped away from 
her ; the room, the world itself, all went from her, down 
and down, till her spirit floated alone, solitary in space-— 
and she was aware alone of a tiny insistent voice that 
summoned her back to earth, to life and dreadful pain. 
She did not wish to heed it, the voice troubled her, she 
desired to stay for ever, floating in space, indifferent to 
the pain that lay below. But the small voice persisted, 
gradually things began again to take visible shape before 
her, and as the rushing blood receded to its accustomed 
channels, she understood where she was, distinguished 
the little dinner tables, and Deegan at her side tilting 
something to her lips and exclaiming: 

"Drink this, ma'am, drink this." 

Without conscious will she obeyed and the strong raw 

39 



Constance West 



whisky confirmed her hesitating senses, she even became 
aware that it was hot and unpleasant in her mouth. 

'Tea/' she gasped half-choking, and impatiently moved 
her head. 

"Caesar 1'' cried Deegan; ''I made sure you was gone. 
There's tea, but have somt more whisky. It'll do you 
good," he urged. 

"No," answered Mrs. West; "I am all right now, 
thanks." The whisky, of which she had taken enough to 
make her insensible under ordinary conditions, enabled 
her to recall her powers, and the strength given to her by 
twenty years' stem self-repression came now to her sud. 
"It must be the result of that storm yesterday," she said 
quietly; "it must have over-tired me." 

"Yes, ma'am, I suppose," said Deegan, but still look- 
ing at her anxiously; and she noticing the expression 
pushed away her plate with an angry exclamation that 
the steak was burnt. 

"I know it," said Deegan sadly, his attention at once 
diverted by this manoeuvre. "If only I could find some 
one to take the job on — ^that blame little cuss of a French- 
man is gettin' — " He picked up the plate with the steak 
and looked at it, lost in gloomy contemplation. 

By an effort Mrs. West still held herself with the ap- 
pearance of recovered calm. She felt almost as though 
in her were two brains, one raging in mad fury and one 
thinking in an icy calm. With a hand that hardly trem- 
bled she drew her cup of tea nearer and helped herself to 
milk and sugar. 

"Would I— do ?" she asked ; for one brain urged her to 
rush out screaming and destroy, something, anything, 
herself; and the other brain showed her the need for 
waiting and for self-control, and hinted, still hinted, of 



40 



Constance West 



the future; bidding her seize this opportunity of remain- 
ing in the village without arousing curiosity. 

"Caesar's American !" cried Deegan ; "I only wish you 
meant it'' ' 

"I do/' she answered. "Quite. Will I do?" 

Again she felt as though all things swam before her 
and there was a clamouring in her brain. Her head felt 
as though it were twisting on her shoulders and she 
raised both hands to it. 

"Sixteen I Blue blazes ! sixteen," cried an excited voice 
as she moved and Cross sprang to his feet. "Sixteen/' 
he repeated, "it's a holy fact." 

"What are you talking about, Jim ? Shut your mouth, 
making a row like that/' cried Deegan angrilyi moving 
towards him. 

"She put sixteen solid spoonfuls of sugar in that tea,** 
cried Cross. "I saw 'em, I counted 'em." He looked 
at Mrs. West with an air of mingled awe and amazement 
"Do you always take it that sweet?" he asked curiously. 

Mrs. West stared at him and then at her cup of tea. 
She saw it had overflowed into the saucer and on to the 
tablecloth, and feeling with a spoon she found it full 
nearly to the brim with half-melted sugar. Her coun- 
tenance expressed her surprise. 

"All the time you was talkin' you was pilin' it in," ex- 
plained Cross. "Didn't you know?" he asked with evi- 
dent disappointment 

"No/' answered Mrs. West She looked at the odd 
mess in her cup and she began to laugh — ^a gentle low 
laughter with no merriment in it at all. Deegan grinned 
in rather a puzzled way and then Cross began to stamp 
about the room, choking with loud laughter* 



41 



IB 
■fa*'' 



Cofutance WeH 



''She didn't know/' be shouted between the gusts of 
his merriment^ and then Deegan joined him, almost a* 
boisterously, and Mrs. West continued her low unchanged 
laughter. So they three laughed together, while slowly 
Mrs. West felt the cold despair that had chilled her heart 
giving place to a yet colder rage. Still they laughed to- 
gether, and impatient v(Mces called from the bar to know 
what the joke might be. 

"You see/' she said aloud presently, "it is always 
nervous work to apply for a situation — so that must have 
made me forget what I was doing." 

Still laughing, she went out of the room and upstairs 
and sat upon her bed. Still she laughed for she did not 
think to stop herself, and she felt that all her being was 
changed to one vast hate. 

"And I travelled four thousand miles to forgive him/' 
she said, and now she did not laugh for it came to her 
that she must control herself. "Four thousand miles,'* 
she repeated and writhed with the bitterness of her self- 
contempt "And I feel so very old," she added weakly 
after a long pause. 

From below she heard a fresh gust of laughter and a 
voice call : "Oh, say, boys ; tell us what the jcke is, any- 
way." 



43 



CHAPTER V 



TO the surprise and intense delight of Deegan, 
Mrs. West proved not only to be in earnest in 
her expressed determination to undertake the 
duties of cook and housekeeper in general to 
the hotel^ but also seemed to show every indication of 
staying permanently. Pierre, the little Frenchman, was 
deposed from his position as cook to become dishwasher, 
and never since Big End had been a settlement had 
its inhabitants known such meals. True, Mrs. West 
was lamentably weak in pancakes, and did not seem thor- 
oughly to appreciate their eternal fitness for breakfast, 
but her pies won enthusiastic approval. By the end of 
the first week Deegan even found young bachelors rid- 
ing in for the sole purpose of obtaining a decent meal, 
a change from the accustomed fried bacon and stewed 
tea of their shanties. 

The only drawback to Deegan's happiness was the fear 
that she might leave him. Under the influence of this 
dread he watched her closely, and soon became reassured. 
Yet there seemed something strange about her, and little 
Pierre went about his duties in open fear, declaring that 
she was too Uriste' to live with, and from his manner 
it seemed that he meant more than Uriste.* "She talka 
to herself," he said once to Deegan, who only bade him 
"go to blazes." Nevertheless he was so far impressed 
by the diange m her manner since the first day of hev 



43 



Constance West 



arrival that he asked her what was wrong, and received 
for reply a cold indignant stare that drove him from the 
Idtdien in confusion. But she kept very much to her- 
self and the matter ceased to interest him, especially as 
the number of diners increased daily. 

Deegan could not have explained exactly what it was 
that seemed unusual about Mrs. West, and that made him 
vaguely but unmistakably uneasy. She appeared to be 
thoroughly engrossed in her kitchen, and seeing her 
bustling with the daily meals no one could have guessed 
at the long wakeful nights of tearless agony or at the 
slow gathering anger within, that gradual change of 
frozen misery to fiercer rage, which threatened before 
long to find for itself some issue or another. Carefully 
mixing her cakes, or anxiously watdiing the baking o£ 
her pies and biscuits, she appeared the very type of a 
busy careful housewife, and one would have laughed to 
suppose that she brooded on the memory of intolerable 
wrongs. 

Never once in all that time, tiiat long nightmare of 
suppressed suffering, did she in any way betray the 
feelings that possessed her— only each day she grew more 
and* more silent, and her face took fresh and deq>er lines. 

So the days passed and still she brooded to herself in 
silence, when, one afternoon, just as she had finished 
clearing up after the dinners were over — ^now she appre- 
ciated the strictness of the rule as to hours — ^Deegan 
came quickly into the kitchen and told her not to be 
alarmed, nor to heed it if she heard any unusual noise. 

"Why?" she asked, looking up and displaying some 
kitertstt rather to the surprise of Deegan; but the idea 

44 



Constance West 



of a fight, of trouble, seemed to appeal to her and to 
fit in with her gloomy thoughts 

"Oh, it's nothing," be answered; "only I don't want 
you to get scared." 

She questioned him further ; and, pressed, he explained 
that Jim Cross was in the bar, raging drunk and clam- 
ouring for more whisky. 

"You see, ma'am, I know just the state he has got to. 
If he don't have more, he'll get real mad ; and if he do, 
he'll get plum crazy. Either way he'll turn loose and then 
there'll be trouble. So if you hear a row, you just lay 
low and say nothin'. He has a gun with him, too," 

"Oh," said Mrs. West and on a sudden impulse she 
turned and walked out of the kitchen into the saloon. 
She could not have explained why she went even to her- 
self, but she felt a need for action : her long brooding had 
grown intolerable and now some outlet bad become im- 
perative. 

In the saloon, sitting at a small table^ she found Cross. 
In front of him stood an unopened whisky bottle, and 
in each hand he held one other, taking from them alter- 
nate drinks. As yet he was not acutely quarrelsome and 
when she entered he greeted her with a boisterous shout, 
and an invitation to "step up and have some poison." 

"Come and have some forty rod," he yelled, beating 
the floor with his heels. "Good old kill-me-quick," he 
shouted. 

Mrs. West looked at him steadily, wondering how she 
could induce him to go away quietly, for then she had 
no other thought in her mind. As in some perplexity 
she glanced towards the door, she saw the figure of a 
man pass by — a tall strongly built figure with bent head 



45 



Constance West 



and a curious dragging walk ; a figure that once had been 
familiar to her, that once had been dear to her. All ex- 
pression left her face and she stared after him, stiff and 
breathless. 

''What's wrong r' inquired Jim in the genial tones of 
an intoxication still in the happy stage. ''Step up, ma'am^ 
aJad have some forty rod ; Deegan's Sunday best poison 
this is, ma'am." 

"Who was that passed V she asked slowly. 

"That? Oh, that was John Leigh," answered Deegan 
from behind, and hearing the name. Cross began to swear 
and then became profusely apologetic 

"Dam interferin' cuss I Wants to take our whisky 
away," he explained and took another drink. 

"It's just my luck, too, that he should be in town," said 
Deegan gloomily. "Now if there's trouble he'll hear of 
it right away. Jim, why the blazes can't you go away 
quietly? You don't want to make me lose my licence, 
do you ?" 

"Certainly not, not by a long sight," said Cross amiably. 
"Let's go and lynch him. Come and have some poison, 
and cuss all them interferin' fellows." 

"So that was John Leigh," said Mrs. West slowly. 
She gave a short quick laugh, intolerably harsh, almost 
like a dog's bark ; so that Deegan stared at her and even 
the bemused Jim blinked solemnly up. 

"See here, ma'am," said Deegan ; "there's bound to be 
trouble, you clear if you please." 

Without answering she walked to the table where Cross 
sat and picked up the bottle that stood before him. Still 
without speaking, she next took from him the other two 
bottles, he too astonished to resist, and then she moved 



46 



Constance West 



away towards the bar| carrymg the three in her anns. 
For a moment he sat with open mouthy hardly compre- 
l^nding such astonishing occurrences, then with a wild 
whoop he sprang to his feet and began' to jump up and 
down, knocking his heels together at each bound and 
Saving shrill yells. Deegan moved quickly forward, his 
light hand held awkwardly behind him, already consider- 
ing where his first shot should be placed. 

"Even in this blame slow country," he muttered ; "they 
are bound to admit shootin* is necessary now." 

"What's the matter ?" asked Mrs. West over her shoul- 
der as she leaned across the bar to set down the bottles 
she carried. 

Cross stopped his antics and looked at her. He did 
not quite understand but he was furiously angry, and 
the spirits he had drunk were quickly affecting him now 
(hat be was taking no fresh stimulant to preserve the bal- 
ance. 

"You better give me that stuff back, ma'am," be said, 
"or there'll be trouble, a whole heap of trouble and mighty 
quick. Hustle now, you hear me?" 

"Not on any account," said Mrs. West briefly as she 
placed the last bottle in its place. 

"Then some one's going to get hurt," said Cross. 

Immediately both men moved and faced each other with 
revolvers securely grasped, thotigh not yet openly shown. 
Suddenly Mrs. West stood between them, unheeding 
Deegan's cry of dismay. 

"You can't possibly have that whisky," she said to 
Cross. 

"I guess I can." His speech was clear and his hand 
firm, for as yet the spirit had only affected his brain and he 



47. 



•««■•«•■•*<■ 



Constance West 



showed DO sign of drink* except a gentle swaying* bade- 
wards and forwards, and a wild glitter in bis eyes* Mrs* 
West saw it and knew it — such a glitter in a man's eye 
she had seen before — ^twenty years before. "Why not?** 
he repeated. Still he swayed backwards and forwards, 
and very gently, by almost imperceptible degrees, his 
right hand began to steal forward from the shelter of his 
coat 

"Listen," said Mrs. West in clear sharp tones; "you 
can't have any more whisky, because — because — '* 

"Because why, dam ye, why ?" 

Now his pistol showed dearly and in the background 
Deegan groaned and looked wildly about him, for he 
dared not fire while Mrs. West stood between them, and 
yet thought that now his only hope was to get the first 
shot 

"Why?" repeated Mrs. West "Why? Ck) and ask 
— ^why — ^Jcrfin Leigh." 

"Him?" cried Cross and his whole expression dianged. 
"Oh," he said : "I'll fix him up." 

To his disturbed and excited mind it seemed now that 
all was explained. He rushed from the saloon and they 
heard him running down the street Mrs. West and 
Deegan looked at each other and there was silence in 
the room. Then Deegan moved to help himself to a 
drink, and Mrs. West became busy, polishing at a brass 
rail near at hand. Deegan said in a low tone: 

"He'll kill him." 

"He has had too much drink," she answered hurriedly. 
"He has had far too much drink. His hand trembles." 

"He will kill him," repeated Deegan. 

Mrs. West shook her bead without speaking, ^e 

48 



Constance West 



ceased to rub at the brasd rail. Presently she said with an 
abstracted air: ''He will only scare him," 

"He'll kill him," repeated Deegan, "Sure as shooting 
he'U kill him." 

"Well," she answered ; "and if he does ?" She moved 
to the window, "And if he does ?" she repeated over her 
shoulder. 

Deegan lodced at her in a puzzled way. He seemed 
to consider this, turning it over in his mind. Then he 
said: 

"Dear God I Hell kill him." 

To this she made no answer for some moments — then 
she turned and came swiftly, towards him. As she came 
he shrank back, almost as though he were afraid, into 
the comer where the bar met the wall. 
'Is he your friend?" she asked'. 
'No, no," he answered. 

"Nor mine," she said. 

"But you see," he began, then stopped and continued. 
"And there's the licence and — " He broke off abruptly, 
thinking he heard a noise in the distance. He made a 
movement as though to go to the door. She resumed,— 

"He and his father — ^they'll close this place." 

De^;an did not answer but drummed angrily on the 
bar while she continued : 

"They'll shut you down— close this place tight.'* 

"Oh, well," he answered as though defying her; 
"there's the dinners." 

"There will be no drink — nothing but tea and coffee." 

"But the dinners pay. Gosh, they pay good — since you 
come." Now it seemed as though he were trying to pla- 
cate her. "Awful good," he urged, "since you come.' 






ff 



49 



Constance West 



"I'll not stay," she answered gloomily. "I'll go if they 
are to do what they like." Her face tock on an express 
sion of extraordinary animosity. "The horrid hypo- 
crites," she cried ; "but I'll g<x" 

"Oh, well," he said as though yielding to her. "I hope 
he's dead." 

"Cross was too drunk, too shaky," she answered 
quickly, starting as though she had not expected such 
words. "There was no danger, no real danger at all." 
She looked at him anxiously through the malign scowl 
that darkened her face. "There was no danger, ho real 
danger?" she asked. 

"Gosh I" he cried ; "yes, no, I don't know. Lord," he 
said, "I — I don't understand." 

"There was no danger," said Mrs. West again, and 
then lifted her hand for silence. 

Quite plainly at a little distance they heard pistol shots 
in rapid succession. 

"Oh, Godl my God I" groaned Mrs. West and fell half 
fainting to a chain 



V SO 



CHAPTER VI 



BEWILDERED between his desire to help Mrs. 
West and his desire to ascertain the result of 
the shooting, Deegan remained helplessly in 
the saloon; sometimes proffering her assist- 
ance and asking her how she did, and sometimes look- 
ing eagerly from door or window. But still the street 
lay quiet and deserted, and it almost seemed as though 
none had heard or heeded those ominous reports save 
themselves alone. 

At last with a little cry Deegan told her that Cross 
was coming, and as he spoke he turned quickly as though 
fearing the effect of the announcement upon her. But 
Mrs. West seemed to pay little attention; and when he 
repeated the remark she moved impatiently and began 
to busy herself tidying some disarranged glasses, yet 
with hands that shook perceptibly as from cold. Deegan 
turned from her with an angry exclamation and saw 
Cross standing in the doorway. 

"Hullo," said Deegan speaking with an effort, his eyes 
eagerly scanning him for some hint of how the affair 
had gone. 

"Hullo yourself," answered Cross and walked into the* 
Toom. 

He did not speak again but sat straddling across a 
chair, glancing about him with an abstracted air. Deegan 
watched him with sidelong looks, half ashamed and half 



SI 



CoMtance West 



afraid; and Mrs* West, after one short glance, indiffer- 
ently continued her tidying, but all at once her hands 
grew steady again as though her anxiety had been rt- 
lieved. 

'*Well/' said Deegan in a minute or two, the silence 
becoming unbearable to him. He cleared his throat and 
repeated again: "Well, Jim; how goes it?" He tried 
to speak carelessly, but* his voice broke at the last word 
so that it came out half strangled, between a scream and 
a sob. 

"It lays me out,'' said Cross and looked about him 
with the same air of bewilderment, as though he needed 
the sight of familiar things to bring him into touch with 
reality again. "It lays me out altogether — ^you hear me ?" 

He threw the last words at Deegan as though they were 
a challenge ; but the other's eager "Yes, Jim ; well, Jim ?" 
seemed to pacify him. 

"It just bests me and that's all tfiere is to it," he re- 
peated. "I came up as close as you is to me now, and I 
said : *So you're the fellow that wants to take my whisky 
away, are you?' 'That's so,' he answers, as cool as ice, 
'for a deal too much you've had, my man.' So I says 
'I'll "my man" you, you dodrotted Britisher, you,' and I 
draws my gun, and I lets loose. Six shots, sir, as near as 
you is to me, or maybe an inch or two nearer ; and as fast 
as I could pull the trigger and not a one of them hit. 
Not one, so I guess I must have been awful drunk. And 
he stood there, cool and sorter tired, like he didn't care a 
cent, with his eyes shut and mouth a-goin' like he was 
chewin' a plug. Then I stopped; my gun bein' empty, 
and he spoke up like a feller firin' his hired man what 
ain't no good; kind of bothered and annoyed like, you 



52 



Constance West 



know, and sort of sorry, too. 'Well,* he says, *if you're 
tryin' to kill me, you are a most mighty bad shot ; and if 
you're tryin' to scare me you're a still bigger fool/ It 
made me all funny inside, like drinkin' too much ice water 
when you're hot, and then he sees me tryin' to load up 
again and he says quick and sudden, 'Give me that/ Tom 
Deegan, I done it; honest Injun, I done it — seemed as 
though I'd just got to. Then he started in to talk, and. 
Lord — I felt mean — just real mean — ^not fit to live. To 
hear him you'd wonder I didn't crawl into a hole and die 
right away, only you'd a-seen he was kind o' sorry about 
it,rtoo. Say, he's a real good sort, a plum dandy, and don't 
you forget it. But he shouldn't have called me *my 
man,' " he added resentfully after a moment's pause. 

"Csesar 1" said Deegan. "And he got your gun. Cassar's 
American 1" He contemplated Jim with unconcealed and 
unflattering amazement. "Great Caesar's American Ghost ! 
I never heard anything to equal that. Gave him his gun," 
said Deegan, appealing to the universe to note the fact 

"And he told you not to drink ?" asked Mrs. West sud- 
denly. 

She had finished the tidying that had occupied her and 
now stood leaning against the bar, surveying the two 
men with a slight sneering smile. 

"That's so/' said Jim, "and I promised — promised sol- 
emn — ^and shook hands on it." 

"The lying hypocrite I" whispered Mrs. West to herself, 
and a quick fury distorted her face, then passing away 
left it placid as before. It angered her most intensely, so 
that the rage ran liquid in her veins, to tfiink that he- 
he— should preach of temperance. For the minutes just 
past remorse had held her — remorse and fear commingled 



53 



■■•■•■i^g' 



Constance West 



— ^but they had gone completely with the relief at finding 
faim unhurt Now in their place grew an insistent rage^ 
for she saw clearly how much better a man Cross would 
be if he were to become ah abstainer, and it maddened 
her to think that her traitor husband should have credit 
for such a result. She contrasted her deed, an incitement 
to murder now that she looked at it coolly, with his, the 
taming of a desperate man. She perceived that he had 
made her revenge innocuous and absurd, twisting it to his 
own advantage. It seemed to her that they had met in a 
struggle and that he had won with ease : even that he had 
'behaved so to Cross that he might contrast himself widi 
her and show his superiority. She compared what he had 
done to her with what he had said to Cross, and in the 
glaring discrepancy found moral justification for her iu'^ 
tentions. "It is only right to expose him," she muttered, 
half aloud; "such a lying mischievous hypocrite. But I 
must be more cunning — ^much more cunning — ^like him." 

She looked up again and saw the two men staring sol* 
cmnly at each other, apparently overwhelmed at these un- 
precedented events. She prepared two glasses of whisky 
and walking down the room placed them silently on the 
table and stood aside to watch the result with her little 
sneering smile. 

"It's queer," said Deegan, the first to move, "it'$ mighty 
peculiar/^ Picking up one glass he drank o& the con*^ 
tents. 

"I never struck anything like it/* said Cross; and he, 
too, drank — slowly and rolling the liquor on his tongue in 
complete forgetfulness of his promise. Mrs. West watched 
Irim and she gave her little dry laugh, for it pleased her 
immensely that he should so soon break the promise tb^ 



54 



Constance West 



he had given. Suddenly he sprang away with a cry, "I 
forgot," he exclaimed. "Lord I I clean forgot.*' 

Deegan looked up in surprise and Mrs. West laughed 
again. Instantly his anger turned on ben 

''Curse you/' be roared ; "and it was you set me after 
him, you — ^you — ^" he spluttered in his anger, seeking 
words ineffectually, and he moved forward with lifted 
hand. "I'll learn you," he growled, "I'll learn you to 
break my promises." 

He made a threatening movement and then at a bound 
Deegan leaped to his side and knocked him senseless with 
a sudden furious blow behind the ear. 

"Oh!" cried Mrs. West. "Oh!" She knelt by the 
prostrate man. "Oh, how could you?** she asked re* 
proachfuUy. "Poor, poor fellow.** 

Deegaii put his hands in his pocket and watched her 
in sulky anger while she rated him for his brutality and 
placed Cross in a more comfortable position, carefully 
examining his head to see if it were bleeding. Then she 
told Deegan to go for some water. He had a mind to 
refuse at first,, but she despatched him with an angry 
gesture and he obeyed, muttering unintelligibly to him* 
self. 

At last a neighbour was found returning near Crosses 
homestead, send, a little to the regret of Mrs. West, who 
would rather have liked to undertake the nursing herself, 
he promised to take Cross home. As tiiey watdied them 
go, Mrs. West turned to Deegan and said with the first 
genuine smile he had seen her give since the day of her 
arrival. 

"I am glad he seems all right, but it was a shame to 
hit him so bard** 



55 



Constance West 



"He would have hit you/' retorted Deegan sulkily ; if 
he had dared he would have added that be was sorry he 
had interfered. 

"Oh, no ; he wouldn't have hit me," returned Mrs. West 
with an air of impartial oohsideration* "Not when it 
came to the point — I don't think he would have hit me." 

Deegan did not answer^ but he moved away, muttering 
something rather sulkily to himself. He felt disturbed 
and angry at the train of events that had occurred that 
afternoon. They were outside his usual experience and 
anything unusual always annoyed him. He loved the 
quiet, placid life he lived in his hotel, and any idea of 
change was abhorrent to him. He felt inclined to blame 
Mrs. iWest for everything, and also he felt that she had 
treated him very ungratefully over his attack on Jim. 
"Dare say, though, she'd 'a' fussed over me if I'd hap- 
pened to sprain a thumb," he muttered with laboured sar- 
casm, unaware tiiat he was speaking the exact trutii. A 
few minutes later he came back and was surprised to find 
her in the same positicm, almost in the same attitude — 
apparently she had not moved since he had left her. 

"Mr. Deegan," she called as he came in sight 

He pretended not to hear but she called again, more 
loudly this time, and he came towards her, for he still 
felt in a vague, undefined way that he was just a little 
afraid of her — she was so outside all his previous knowl- 
edge. 

"I wanted," she said; "I wanted to ask you — " She 
stopped, seeming to have a difficulty in putting her ques- 
tion, for after half beginning again she lapsed into silence. 
Deegan sat down near by, and stared sulkily at his out- 
stretched feet 

56 



Constance West 



"I hope you didn't think me rude about that man," she 
said suddenly. "It was very good of you/' She looked 
at him with a smile that still became her well, and &at in 
her youth had been her chief charm, "Very kind of you/" 
she repeated. 

"Oh, it's all right/' he answered, still sulkily. "I don't 
mind— only if he had got that blow in — " He paused, 
leaving the probable result to her imaginatioo. 

"It would have 'settled' me?" suggested Mrs, West, 
and suddenly she gave again that odd, barking laugh that 
always so discMicerted him. "That would have been such 
a pity/' she commented presently. 

"It would," said Deegan earnestly ; "them pies — ^" 

But she interrupted him with another and more natural 
laugh, and, still more offended, Deegan rose to his feet. 

"Oh, sit down," she exclaimed quickly. "You like to 
see the hotel full and prosperous, Mr. Deegan ?" 

"Why, you bet I do," he answered, surprised at so un- 
necessary a question. 

"Have you had it long?" she said, and began to ask him 
questions about it, its building, its first struggles, till Dee- 
gan quite forgot his ill-temper in his eager, loving story of 
his hotel's existence. If Mrs. West had been younger 
he might not have assumed her interest so easily ; if she 
had been a man he would have feared ridicule; but to 
this elderly, sympathetic woman he found no difficulty in 
telling his past struggles, his future hopes, talking to her 
fully and freely as to his own soul, and she listened to 
him, speaking now and then an interested word till the 
approach of the time for supper forced them to separate. 

Later in Ae evening she chanced to come across him 

57 



CoMtance West 



and said abruptly, taking up the conversation where they 
had dropped it: 

"But if the town does grow as you expect? If the 
branch line does start here for the coal-field?** 

"Then it'll boomr— just boom/' he answered confidently, 
and putting down the bucket of water he was carrying 
to the stables, he began again to boast of the future pros- 
perity of the town and of the hotel In truth his hotel 
was very dear to Deegan ; the chief, die only object of his 
affections ; so that in a way he desired its prosperity even 
apart from the resulting benefit to himself. It had been 
his first personal enterprise, through it he had made for 
himself a place in the world that till then had always 
treated him as an outcast Before he had been a home- 
less wanderer, going to aiad fro, separate from all the 
settled life he enviously watched from a place apart With 
pride he had watched the slow growth of the district and 
the hotel, and in the future of both he had a strong and 
lively faith. His hotel was to him the passport to the 
respect of his fellows — ^its future prosperity the touch of 
colour and romance the lives of all men need. So he 
spoke in low^ eager tones till Mrs. West interrupted him 
as he told her of his dearest and most secret hopes. 

"That's all very well," she said ; "but supposing John 
Leigh makes it a prohibition town? The Branch will go 
to Big Horn then witiiout a doubt, and your hotel will 
be dosed. Shut tight, town and hotel'' She repeated 
the last phrase again. "Shut tight, town and hotel It 
would be a pity, too," she added, and stole a swift glance 
9t his face. It showed all the hate and anger she desired. 
• "They can't do it," he said gloomily. 

*X)h, yes, the/ ca», She answered if they get thei» 

58 



mn 



Constance West 



own way. Are you sorry he was not — hurt this after- 
noonr 

He answered with an oath. ^'I wish Jim had killed 
him dead — ^him and his dad^ toa'' 

''Wishing will do nothing," she observed abstractedly, 

*'What do you mean ?" he asked in a whisper. 

She glanced up and saw his face very pale, with a drop 
p£ perspiration standing on his forehead. 

''Why/* she answered quickly, a little frightened at his 
^expression that now had leaped before her thoughts, 
"wishing won't stop them, will it ? You must conduct a 
campaign— ^o you call it? — ^like them." 

•'Oh," be said with deep relief . "Oh," he repeated with 
now apparent just the tiniest shade of disappointment. 

"I don't want to lose a good place," observed Mrs. 
West "I don't want to have to start out and be^n 
wandering again — and I should be sorry, too, to see the 
phice closed. Of course, a man doesn't mind making a 
fresh starts Mr. Deegan, but it's different for a woman; 
especially when one is getting old." 

"I just won't dose down," said De^^, angrily. "And 
I'm not going to make a fresh start for a blame interfering 
Britisher* It ain't reasonable. You said — " 

^— "that wishing wouldn't stop them/' finished Mrs, 
West, briskly. 

•'Noti" agreed Deegan» "wishing won't, and that's a 
iacL" 

She saw. the expression ol his laoe, anS sEe smiled, 
tiiinking he was at the point to which &he had desired 
to bring him. 

"No/' she said ; "but there might be ways and means. 
You Cold me, if you remember, how he ran away onoe 
^ifben yotx offertd him some whidcy^F^ 

59 



Comtance West 






*^'Well ?** be ^d, as she paused. 

''It's that/' she said, and then she began to whisper in 
his ear till on a sudden he burst into a boisterous peal of 
laughter. 

''Hush ! Hush I" she said with warning finger. "I shall 
want a jar of your strongest whisky/' 

"You shall have it/' he cried. "Oh, you shall have it. 

"And I'll go next Wednesday as the girl asked me. 

"Lord t Lord !" he cried, leaning against a post for sup- 
port while he shook with his laughter. "I'd give a hun- 
dred dollars to see him." 

"It's only a chance/' she reminded him. "He may not 
touch it" 

"Only let him get a smell/' he asserted, now more 
sanguine than herself, adopting her plan with eagerness — 
"one smell 'U do the trick." 

"We'll see on Wednesday/' she said and with a nod 
she disappeared. Quite forgetting his errand he walked 
round the hotel, looking up at it with affectionate glances 
and muttering, "No, old girl, they sha'n't close you 
down just yet a bit." At one place he actually patted the 
weather beaten boards with the manner of a man caressing 
his favourite horse and then again he murmured : "Don't 
you fret, old girl/' He turned and walked towards the 
door. "It's a funny thing," he reflected as he went, "that 
a woman like her — ^with such a spirit and such a gift for 
cookin' — ^ain't got married again. Perhaps once was 
enough, but it's queer seein' they are most of 'em so 
almighty keen on it. Anyhow, it's a blame good job for 
this hotel she ain't." He pulled open the door. "A 
blame good job," he repeated as he went in, "though 
she's— she's — sort o' funny, too. 

60 



9f 



CHAPTER VII 



ON the following Wednesday therefore Mrs. West 
drove out in a buggy to pay a visit to the 
Leigh farm. Deegan accompanied her part of 
the way till he brought her to a trail which 
led straight to her destination, so that Aere was no 
chance of her going astray. Then he left her and 
she drove on by herself, glad to be alone, th^t her mind 
might not be stayed from brooding on her wrongs and 
upon the biting scorn of the fate that had made her travel 
8o far to offer her forgiveness where it was not even 
desired. 

"But if he doesn't care about forgiveness, he shall have 
another thing ; forgiving and forgetting go together and 
if he didn't want the one I sha'n't do the other;" she 
would murmur to herself at intervals ; and always as she 
thus brooded on her wrongs her rage increased, feeding 
continually upon itself. 

Her way took her through a country not in itself very 
pretty but to a stranger interesting enough, and now 
laughing at the first touch of spring; rejoicing almost 
visibly in the renewed strength of the sun that was fast 
unlocking the fierce long grip of the winter. The snow 
had all gone from the open prairie, though it still lay in 
patches in sheltered places. Each slough was now a little 
pond, reflecting back the rays of the sun, each ravine had 
turned into a little running stream, and a small river she 
had to pass on her way brimmed CuU with Om ilidted 



&i 



Constance West 



snow* At every farm she passed the settler was busy, 
going quickly about his yard; anticipating gleefully the 
busy season, confident with the confidence of eadi re- 
curring spring that this year's crqp would be a good one« 
and inspecting closely the earth to see if yet it were dry; 
enough to work. 

But Mrs. West only noticed that the trail was muddy 
and hard-going, and her sombre looks relaxed not at all 
for any sign of the joyous spring time. Her wrong 
appeared to her so huge, so engrossed her mind with a 
sense of great bitterness, that it eclipsed in size even the 
unbounded prairies, equalled in interest even the vast 
activities of the coming spring. She passed moodily 
through this land that laughed to her, and planned only 
how she might strike back as bitter a blow as she had 
suffered. 

At last she came in sight of a farm which from Deegan's 
description she recognized as her husband's. She drove 
past the outbuildings amid the barking of dogs, and 
5\hnie came running out to welcome her. Visitors were 
always something of a rarity and Annie valued thetn 
accordingly, but Mrs. West she welcomed with a quite 
separate pleasure. 

''I am glad to see you," she said. "I was beginning to 
tlunk you were never coming. It is such a long time.'' 

"I have been so busy," answered Mrs. West; "but I 
have wanted to come for long enough to claim your 
promise." 

**My promise," repeated Annie, not remembering for the 
moment ; "but anyhow I am glad you have come at last." 

"I see you have forgotten," laughed Mrs. West. "But 
you warned me things would be strange and that yotf 
would help ine to get settled — '* 



69 



Constance West 

"Oh, yeS; of course ;" said Annie, delighted at the pros- 
pect of helping any one. "Let us put the horse in first, 
and then we will go and have a nice talk.*' 

Accordingly she unhitched the horse, while Mrs. West 
looked on at a feat far beyond her, and safely placed it in 
the stable with an armful of hay. Mrs. West watched 
her as she went about, tall and graceful, and she deliber- 
ately tried to increase the animosity she felt against her—- 
interloper and child of an interloper. 

"I don't care whether she is to blame herself or 
not," she muttered. "Her very presence here is an 
offence." 

Going to the buggy she felt inside it among the rugs. 
Rather carefully she lifted out a brown paper parcel and 
showing it to Annie as she returned explained that it was 
for her father. 

"Oh !" said Annie looking at it curiously. "Who is it 
from?" 

"I don't know," answered Mrs. West. "I was asked to 
bring it by Mrs. McLean/' she added, naming the post- 
master's wife. 

"But it has not been through the mail ?" 

"No, Mrs. McLean said some stranger had left it. 
Where shall I put it?" 

"Oh, just leave it here," said Annie carelessly ; "I'll take 
It in presently." 

Apparently Mrs. West misunderstood her. 

"On here?" she said, and moving forward She placed 
it on a little table just inside the open door of the kitchen* 
"It will be out of the way there, won't it ?" 

Annie had a momentary feeling of vexation, partly from 
fear that the kitchen might not be up to Mrs. West's 
Standard of tidiness, but she did not say anything or intef» 

63 



Constance West 



fere with the arrangement They went together round 
to the iroDt of the house and entered the sitting room« 

Without a visible tremor Mrs. West entered again the 
home of the man from whom she had fled so many years 
before. She glanced round her, replying mechanically to 
Annie's remarks. The room itself was rather larger than 
is usual in western farm-houses ; and much of the f umi^ 
ture had evidently come from England Altogether the 
impression was one of comfort and good taste, l/ffs. 
West took the seat Annie offered her; she had sat i& it 
twenty years before, a happy bride. Opposite to her she 
saw a bookcase she remembered well ; on the top was a 
small bronze statuette — ^it was her admiration that had 
made her husband buy it. In a comer she recognized his 
favourite chair with its peculiarly carved back and arms. 
Even the very pictures on the walls, hardly a strange one 
among them, were familiar to her and cried out to her of 
a lost happiness. It came to her that this was his roogv— 
his presence was stamped upon it — ^familiarly, intim^ly, 
it spoke to her of him she knew so well. She noticed how. 
unusually low the pictures were hung — ^that had always 
been a fad of his, and it was extraordinary how that 
detail hurt her. Like the sear of hot iron came the re- 
membrance of how he had brought another womati, the 
mother of this girl, and made her mistress of these things, 
of his life and of his heart. "His life was mine,'' she 
said to herself ; "mine, for he gave it me, and yet he could 
put another wwnan in my place — ^and so soon." It was 
as though her soul shrivelled in the new agony of that 
thought ; and there was no longer any trace of hesitation 
or remorse to mingle with her firm fixed purpose. Sud-* 
denly she found that Annie was expecting an answer to 
some question she had put 

64 



Cotutanee West 



'Tf es, yes," said Mrs. West hastily and at random ; "I 
think so, at least" 

''Oh, I'm so glad/' cried Annie; "I shall tell father 
that;" and Mrs. West wondered what opinion she had 
committed herself to. With a smile that hid a consuming 
hatred, Mrs. West addressed herself to the conversation, 
and proved herself a charming companion. She asked 
many questions and Annie told her about the character^ 
istics of the settlers and the country. Mrs. West exerted 
all her powers to please ; she gained Annie's good will by 
tiie delicate flattery wherewith she accepted so readily 
advice and information about this new life and she re- 
tained the ascendency due to her greater age by occa- 
sional remarks that showed her wider experience- 
Perhaps it is little wonder that the lonely and simple- 
minded girl fell an easy victim, and quickly felt for Mrs. 
West that enthusiastic admiraticm young girls do often 
entertain for older women who notice and are kind to 
them* Annie, too, had nev.er known her mother and had 
found she possessed but little in common with most of 
her neighbours ; and it was a pleasure as real as it was 
rare for her to talk with a woman who had seen some- 
thing of the outside world. 

"And you have really seen Venice?" she said once with 
awe in her tones. "Father has been there too, but he 
never cares to talk about it Do tell me all about it and 
Rome, too. Oh, I should love to see Rome." 

"Some other time," said Mrs. West and smiled as 
though she did not remember that that trip to Italy had 
been their wedding journey. She thought of how they 
had planned and hesitated over the cost, and how finally 
he had cried that go they should, since a honeymoon 
came but once in a lifetime. A sense of the horrid irony 



6§ 



Constance West 



of the position came to Mrs. West and for a moment she 
felt as though she must cry out with the pain. But 
lAjmie's cahn eyes were on her and she recovered her self • 
possession with an effort She brought the conversation 
back to America, and then Annie exclaimed in dismay to 
see how late it was and rushed away to prepare tea. 

Over this they seemed to grow even more friendly than 
before. Annie chatted with girlish frankness, telling her 
new acquaintance everything that came into her mind ; and 
Mrs. West answered with a smiling urbanity that never 
for even a second slipped aside to show the burning rage 
beneath. But all through their careless chat, Mrs. West 
felt again fresh agony to see another holding sway in 
her husband's home, occupying the place that was hers by 
right, dispensing hospitality as she herself should have 
done. Now there was nothing left in her mind but a 
fixed determination. Yet it is curious that she never set 
herself any definite aim nor attempted to see clearly the 
end whereto she drifted. She simply felt that she hated 
with utter hatred the man who had married her only to 
injure her first and then to cast her off with unconcerned 
and added insult And there are many who thus go from 
step to step till aghast they see the appointed end rise 
suddenly before them, inevitable and awful. 

Although her mind was busy with hate and pain ; with 
memories of what had been and with thoughts of what 
now was; still Mrs. West listened to Annie's talk, and 
said little sympathetic things, and drew her on to speak 
more intimately of herself. At last a name two or three 
times repeated caught her attention and she asked: 
V "This Mr. Briscoe you speak of; who is he?" 

"Oh,'* said Annie volubly and busy with the teacups. 
"Just an Englishman, a neighbour, you can see his shanty 

66 



Constance West 



from one of the top windows. He often comes over to 
help father." 

"A farmer, too^ then ?" 

"Not exactly/* said Annie, still busy with cups. "Do 
let me g^ve you some more tea? He lives on O'Dell's 
place, but does not cultivate it, except just a few acres. 
He is only looking about him this year, I think — ^he had to 
leave England because of his health. Bristol is where he 
comes from at home." 

"Oh," said Mrs. West watching her, and the hard 
mechanical smile she had worn all the afternoon became 
momentarily softer. "Did I not see him in the town that 
day — 2L rather handsome young fellow with nice curly 
hair? 

'Oh, yes," said Annie with almost pathetically apparent 
pleasure at the compliment. "So you did. 



* Oil, yes, saiu r\niiic wiin cuiiiust pauici 

Du did." 

"And so he often comes across?" 

"Oh, no; that is to say, yes, sometimes; just to help 
father, you know," explained Annie with increased con- 
fusion. "It is such a help to him to have some one like 
that," she added with emphasis. 

Mrs. West glanced at her oddly, but the girl was look- 
ing down and saw nothing. "Judas," she whispered to 
herself, but added quickly: "It's only paying him with 
his own weapons." Leaning across with deliberation she 
kissed Annie on the cheek, patting her hand gently. 

"Oh, please; Mrs. West," cried Annie and her con- 
fusion became painful. 

"You see — " said Mrs. West ; "I was young, oftce — ^and 
I know." 

'Do you ?" said Annie with surprise, for it had never 

67 



4<^ 



Constance West 



before occurred to her that her experience might not be 
unique — ^and she had a vague idea that Mrs. West was 
really very old. 

"Yes — " answered Mrs. West slowly, f I know— oh, 
yes ; I know." Her smile was very bitter but Annie did 
not notice. 

"Was he — ^was it — " she began and stopped, blushing 
furiously. 

"He was very good and I was very happy," said Mrs. 
West and now it was Annie who kissed her. And Mrs. 
West felt the touch of her lips like the sting of white hot 



iron. 



But you are quite misunderstanding," she said a little 
lamely. "There is nothing, really, only — " 

"Only he has looked — and you. Oh, yes ; I understand," 
said Mrs. West, "tell me some more about him." 

Annie had always been, both by nature and through 
the solitary circumstances of her life, very quiet and re- 
served ; but now that that reserve had been captured she 
found it a relief to speak to this kind older woman, who 
seemed to understand her so well. She told with hesita- 
tion and many blushes the little there was to tell, and Mrs. 
West saw that Briscoe was probably only waiting some 
favourable opportunity to declare his love. 

"He wanted me to go for a drive yesterday afternoon," 
Annie confided. "He was so cross when I wouldn't." 

"And what will you say ?" 

"Oh, please," cried Annie in an agony. 

"But you must make up your mind." 

"I can't, I daren't," answered the girl. "I shall never 
let him say anything, never, never." She repeated the last 

68 



Comtance West 



word with decision. "Perhaps he won't try," she added 
hopefully. 

Mrs. West laughed and said no more till presently it 
was time for her to go. 

"But father will be in soon," said Annie; "won't you 
wait a littler 

"Will he ?" said Mrs. West and appeared to hesitate, but 
she had no intention of meeting her husband just yet. "I 
am afraid I must go," she said with seeming reluctance. 

Annie went to the stable and as no man was about har- 
nessed the horse herself. Mrs. West drove away and as 
she watched her go, Annie realized with surprise how con- 
fidential their talk had been and how much she had told 
to this almost complete stranger. She felt ashamed of 
herself and thought that the older woman must certainly 
have despised her — ^had perhaps been secretly amused all 
the time. 

"What did make me talk like that ?" she exclaimed 
aloud. "How silly, how dreadfully silly." 

With a very red face and a conviction that she had been 
foolish in the extreme, Annie turned towards the house. 
She felt terribly ashamed of herself for she did not in the 
least understand how she had been played upon and drawn 
out. Suddenly at a distance she saw Briscoe walking up 
the trail. After the late conversation this was altogether 
too much, and Annie promptly disappeared round the 
stable and away. So when Briscoe arrived he found an 
empty house and had to wait with what patience he might, 
while Annie, sorrowful and ashamed, walked sharply in 
another direction and wept a little and hoped she would 
never be so foolish again. She also decided that she did 

69 



Constance West 



not in the least care far Mr. Briscoe and that he most 
certainly did not in the very least care for her. She knew 
quite well that this was not true^ but all the same she 
repeated it several times and pretended to believe it 



70 



CHAPTER VIII 



ANNIE did not return to the house till she saw her 
father coming up the trail with the load of wood 
he had been to fetch. Then she hurried back aa 
fast as she could, suddenly remembering that 
nothing was ready for supper. Pausing but to give the 
briefest of greetings to Briscoe who was* still patiently 
waiting for some one to appear, she darted into the kitdien 
and bustled about, hastily preparing the meal in some fear 
lest she might keep her father waiting. 

Although never in her life had he even spoken harshly 
to her, yet Annie stood in considerable awe of her silent 
gloomy father. If she loved him, yet she feared him more, 
and on his side he never let her catch a glimpse of the 
gentle tender affections that lay behind his sombre man- 
ner. Indeed she was persuaded that he little more than 
tolerated her, and she believed that her girlish chatter 
often annoyed him though in truth he always welcomed it 
as one of the few things that had power to turn the gloomy 
current of his thoughts. But that she never dreamed and 
gradually had gjown to be almost as silent as himself 
when in his presence. He knew that his persistent gloom 
must check her natural affection; he understood well 
enough that loving though the girl's disposition was, yet 
she grew each day to fear him more ; but he felt himself 
powerless to prevent it. When she was younger he had 
tried once or twice to win her confidence but his change 



n 



Comtance West 



of manner only seemed to frighten her more. He quickly, 
drifted back into the gloom that in her life had always 
characterized him, and again sought in persistent labour 
the only anodyne for his remembrances. Though he spent 
money on her education with an almost savage resolve to 
give her every advantage in his power, and with a prodi- 
gality that appalled Big End, there always existed i>e- 
tween them in their home life a breach that neither his 

affection nor her sense of duty could bridge. And this 

• 

was because she was to him not merely a dear and only 
child, but also the ever present witness of past sin. 

Now from the window of the kitchen as she moved to 
and fro, she could see her father in the farm yard, going 
about the little evening chores before he came in for his 
supper. Briscoe had joined him and she could not 
help contrasting them — ^the slim active youth and the slow 
bent figure of the man. It had always seemed to Annie 
that in all essentials except years, even her grandfather 
was younger than his own son. The older man could 
laugh and joke on occasion, had hope and energy and 
something of the eager interests of youth ; his son seemed 
to care for nothing except the spreading of the prohibi- 
tionist movement, and the heavy physical work in the 
fields wherewith he daily exhausted himself. She never 
remembered seeing him smile or otherwise than with bent 
head and sad eyes and slow dragging movements. She 
knew, too, that he was often awake at night in spite of the 
hard laborious work in which he spent the day. 

Once, before the two old people had moved to a farm 
of their own at a distance of some miles, she had ven- 
tured to question her grandfather. "Is my father ill ?" she 
had asked and he had told her "No.'' "Why does he never 



72 



Constance West 



laug^h or talk like you, then?" she had persisted and the 
old man had sighed as he answered: "He is not very 
happy ; he broods too much." All that day he had been 
sad and silent, too, and Annie had never asked again ; ac- 
cepting this unvarying gloom of her father's as a settled 
part of life. It had become so familiar to her that the edge 
of her pity was dulled and now she thought little about it. 
It seemed quite natural to her when she heard Briscoe 
laug^h merrily and looking out again, saw a young cow 
gambol absurdly in a sudden access of high spirits, that 
her father should merely be concerned to get it safely 
stalled. No incident however ludicrous, ever seemed to 
amuse him or even to interest him. Annie watched the 
little scene for a moment, and found the oddly shaped 
parcel that Mrs. West had left rather in her way. She 
had an intention to move it, but something diverted her, 
and she left it where it was. 

"I must remember to tell father about it when he comes 
in, and I suppose Mr. Briscoe is sure to come, too, and 
stay for supper," she murmured as she put the finishing 
touches to the table. For the first time the idea of Bris- 
coe's presence was unwelcome to her. Recollection of 
what she had confessed to Mrs. West still made her blush, 
and she did not at all wish to meet him again just then. It 
seemed to her that he must see what she had said recorded 
on her face. It was perhaps illogical but she felt distinctly 
angry with him and was prepared to be very cold and dis- 
tant, and it was some satisfaction to her to decide with 
much emphasis that she would certainly say "No" if he 
did ask her any absurd ridiculous question. "In fact I 
won't let him speak to me — ever," she said aloud. 
Looking through the window again she saw the two 



73 



Constance West 



men walking together down the path to the house, and 
with a quick feeling of shyness she retreated to her bed- 
room. Briscoe went to wait in the front, while Jcdm 
Leigh himself stayed in the kitchen to get tidy. Life on 
the Leigh farm was different in many respects from the 
usual routine of the West ; a fact that had always tended 
to keep them a little apart from their neighbours. Leigh 
kept up many of his English habits and prejudices and 
since Annie had come to womanhood he had grown even 
more particular. Lately he had put up a separate house 
for the hired help, and though that had been a source of 
much heart burning at first, he now employed a married 
couple who were well satisfied with the arrangement. This 
woman, too, took all the, heavier work off Annie's 
shoulders and she boarded the additional men who were 
employed during the busy times. 

Scxne casual remark that Briscoe had made about Eng- 
land had set Leigh's thoughts that never wholly left the 
past, brooding upon it even more bitterly than usual. Mrs. 
West's package chanced to be in his way and he moved it 
without noticing that it bore his name. As he tidied him- 
self — ^he was the only farmer in the district, and probably 
in the whole of North America, who regularly put on col- 
lar and tie at supper time — his melancholy increased. He 
was not more tired than usual, but he seemed to have less 
strength to endure his gloomy thoughts. He remembered 
Briscoe's merry laughter at the frisky cow, when Annie 
had thought him solely concerned to see the animal 
stabled, and a keen envy of all young and unspoilt lives 
swept over him. He wondered — ^not for the first time — 
whether it was worth while, whether anything was worth 
while. 



74 



Constance West 



€f 



'li I could only forget sometimes," he said; "if only 
for just one day I could be like other men, I think I could 
bear it better." 

The old legend of how Judas Iscariot is given one day 
of respite in each year of his damnation, came to him ; and 
he wondered whether he would suffer as much in the next 
world as he had in this. 

**Oh, I know I deserved it," he said aloud; "but still 
even one day like Judas, would be something to be grate- 
ful for." 

His eye chanced to fall just then upon the label tied to 
the package he had moved the moment before. He fin- 
ished tidying himself and then without much interest cut 
the string. 

"A bottle^" he said, and pulled out the cork. 

A strong pungent smell rose to his nostrils. He stood 
like one petrified. 

"Whisky," he whispered, and he glanced about and be- 
hind as though he feared detection. He rounded his 
shoulders and bent his body over the bottle almost as 
though to hide it. "I must — I must throw it away," he 
said, "all away — at once." 

Presently he put out one hand, and then quiddy drew it 
back. His nostrils twitched with eagerness and (q>ened to 
catch up the full strength of the odour. His lips suddenly 
went dry, and he tried to moisten them with a tongue as 
dry. He almost choked. It occurred to him that he was 
thirsty. His right hand swung to and fro like a pendulum 
— he trembled with the violence of his desire ; and yet was 
aware of unformed memories that held him back. 

"Only a little," he said. "Why not? Just a drop— be- 
fore I throw the rest away." 

75 



Constance West 



Suddenly he found that he held a teacup in his hand. 
He locked at it with surprise, then let it fall and watched 
stupidly the white fragments scatter on the floor. Even 
as he locked his hand went behind him, groping on a 
shelf. He made no attempt to see but presently it came 
forward again and now it held a tin pannikin. 

"God help me/' he groaned and putting up his other 
hand he wiped the perspiration from his forehead. He be- 
gan to talk to himself in a rapid voluble whisper. ^'Why 
not?*' he said. "Twenty years of suffering— of agony — 
of memory — ^never forgetting for one moment — ^this would 
give me forgetfulness to-night — ^and happiness. Not too 
much^ of course — but in moderation — ^in reason." These 
last two words caught his fancy and he kept repeating 
them to himself. "In reason," he said and again "in rea- 
son — ^just a little — ^in reason. And that for to-morrow," 
he said finally and snapped his fingers in the air. 

Taking a spoonful of sugar he put it in the pannikin he 
held. He was very particular to get the right amount, 
twice adding a few grains and once taking some away. 
The kettle was boiling on the stove. He went quickly 
towards it muttering to himself: "In reason — not yielding 
or giving way suddenly — in reason." Somehow it ap- 
peared to him that if he performed all his actions slowly 
and in the regular manner, he would prove that he was 
not giving way to any sudden temptation: in a vague 
fashion the formality of his actions presented itself to him 
as an excuse. He took hold of the handle of the kettle 
but it chanced to be hot and burned him. He let go quickly 
and looked round with a surprised air, as though not quite 
understanding. His eye fell upon the bottle and he saw 
the whisky it held. His whole being shook with desire 

76 



Constance West 



for the spirit ; his body, his throat, his mouth, yearned for 
the fiery taste. It was as though he burned internally. 

"And to forget/' he said, and with one leap he went 
across the floor; his eyes fierce, his hand outstretched. 
He seized the bottle and swung it up; he put his head 
back ; his mouth gaped ; he paused for just one second to 
anticipate the long luxurious draught. 

"Are you ready yet, father ?" said Axmie from the inner 
room. 

He heard and stayed himself. With all his force he 
hurled the bottle irom him, so that it flew through the 
open door and smashed to little pieces against a fence post. 
The whisky soaked into the earth. John Leigh half fell 
against the door, shaking in every limb, and hearing the 
noise Annie ran into the room fearing for her crockery. 

"Oh, dear," she said as she stood in the doorway, "what 
is it?" She glanced round and saw the fragments on the 
floor. "One of the cups," she said, "Is that all ? I thought 
—Why, father, what is the matter?" 

He did not answer her. She repeated the question and 
then as he still did not seem to hear, she touched his arm. 
Instantly he bounded away as though she had pricked him 
and she gave a startled cry. 

"What is the matter ?" she asked, looking at him in as- 
tonishment and distress; for his face was white, his limbs 
shook, his mouth hung open and he seemed not to under- 
stand. "Father," she repeated, "are you ill ? Shall I get 
jpu anything?" 

He caught her arm as she approached him. He dragged 
her outside and pointed, and his grasp on her arm tight- 
ened tiU it hurt her. "Look," he said wildly ; "it has all 
gone, how quickly it has swallowed it up, how thirsty it 



77 



Comtance West 



must have been. Like — ^like — " his voice sank to a 
whisper — "like me," he saicL 

Aimie went a little pale for he frightened her, and his 
grasp on her arm was quite painful ; but her eyes rested 
steadily and gently on his and she did her best to hide her 
terror, 

'*What is it, father?" she asked softly. Strangely she 
felt more drawn to him than ever before. She even ven- 
tured on a term of endearment "Dear father, tell me." 

But still he did not speak, and for a few moments they 
stood thus. She saw how ghastly white he was, and how 
in his usually quiet and melancholy eyes there burned a 
strange fire. Still she did not flinch or heed the pain 
where his hand crushed her arm. Slowly the wild excite- 
ment died away from his face and left him sad and im- 
mobile as before. 

"Supper is ready?" he asked. "Yes, then let us ga" 



78 



CHAPTER IX 



FOR the rest of that evening Jdin Leigh remained 
even more silent and gloomy than usual. Annie, 
too^ was very quiet and on a plea of headache 
retired early to her own room ; so that it was 
not long before Briscoe went back to his own shanty, in, 
it is to be feared, not the most amiable of tempers. Annie 
did not appear again that night, though she watched Bris- 
coe's departure from the corner of her window, so that 
nothing was said about her visitor. Early the next morn- 
ing, however, as he came in from milking, her father sud- 
denly began to question her. He listened in silence to her 
description until she mentioned that the stranger seemed 
to have had one eye badly hurt at some time. Thrice he 
made Annie repeat this, pressing her for a more detailed 
description till at last she cried out with some petulance 
that she could tell him nothing more. 

"Nothing more?" he said and abruptly he left the room. 

*'What is the matter?" she said aloud as she saw him 
go. She went to the window and from it, saw him lead a 
horse out of the stable, leap on it bare-backed, and gallop 
furiously away towards the town. "And he has had no 
breakfast," said Annie ; "not a bite." 

She was expecting her grandfather, old Mr. Leigh, that 
morning, he having sent word that he would be over early 
on his way to a neighbour's. Almost immediately she saw 
him coming and ran out to greet him. She felt very puz- 



79 



Cotutance West 



"] 



zled and a little frightened, and very excitedly she told 
him the whole story. 

'Now, grandpa/' she said ; ^'what does it all mean 7* 

'My dear/' he answered in much distress and then 
paused. Long ago he had promised to keep from Annie 
the secret of the doubtful legitimacy of her birth. At first 
he had wished to keep the secret for his son's own sake ; 
but lately he had come to recognize that the discovery 
of the truth would hurt Annie much more. He knew that 
she was proud of what she had always considered her 
father's stem uprightness, and that round the figure of 
that dead mother she had never known, had clustered all 
her tenderest dreams, all the unchecked love and rever- 
ence of a young girl's heart. He glanced at her with appre- 
hension, fearing the effect of the discovery, knowing the 
passionate intensity of her feelings. "She has keen ideas 
of honour," he said to himself. "How will she take 
knowing such a thing of her parents?" But though 
this news of Annie's confirmed the stray apprehension 
that had brought him over this morning, he was not 
certain that the stranger was really his son's injured 
wife returned again. He was too bewildered to think 
clearly. "It is a debt," he said finally, as she still waited 
his reply. 

"Oh," said Annie, and drew a long breath of deep re- 
lief. "Is that all ? Oh, you will laugh, gi^ndpa, but I was 
so frightened." 

He looked at her uneasily and his tone was gruff as he 
asked shortly: "Frightened? Nonsense. Why?" 

"Oh, I don't know, but I was. It was silly — ^but— oh, 
dreadful things, vague things, things I did not under- 



80 



Constance West 



stand. But a debt, why I that is nothing/' And Annie 
smiled and waved her hand in happy contempt for all sudi 
trifles. 

''But it is a big debt, a heavy debt/' answered the old 
man slowly. ^'I thought it was paid, but God is a jealous 
God — a jealous God," he repeated ''to the uttermost 
farthing/' 

''But surely it cannit be much/' objected Annie. 
^'Father is always so part icular and careful.'' 

"He thought this was cleared/' said the old man. ^'I 
thought so, too ; but it is not." 

"Is that why he went fcflF so quickly ? He might have 
waited for breakfast Is it very much? Does he owe it 
to Mrs. West ? And who iVshe ?" 

"We knew her at home. He^^ayes her very much- 
more than he can ever pay, I fear." 

"Poor father," said Annie ; "we shall have to be more 
careful, then. How much is it, do you know?" 

"A great deal — 2l very great deal." 

"It was very nice of her not to say anything," said 
Annie approvingly, "I suppose she just came so that he 
could pay if he liked. And father was taken by surprise 
— ^that is why he was so funny last night" 

"Perhaps — I suppose so/' said Mr. Leigh hesitatingly. 

They went in together to get their delayed breakfast. 
Annie chattered on, evolving for herself a theory of 
money generously lent in the past and now to be ira- 
mediately repaid. She felt equally pleased with Mrs. 
West's behaviour in making no direct demand for the 
money, and with her father for his anxiety to pay his 
debts. Opposite to her the old man sat silently, making 
pretence to eat, and thinking — thinking. 

8l 



Constance West 



"But why did she come ?' he said to himself over and 
over again. "To forgive or — ^to forgive or — " 

And Annie, who usually had cream with her breakfast, 
this morning took only the skim milk, putting aside the 
cream with care that there might be the more butter. "But- 
ter always fetches its price/' she said wisely, repeating 
what the manager of the local creamery was fond of im- 
pressing on the settlers. Already she saw the money she *. 
supposed to be owing to Mrs. West completely cleared 
off, and imagined her father thanking her for her assist- 
ance. She thought that would be very nice. 

Meanwhile John Leigh galloped on to town and all the 
morning he hung about there — conduct so unusual with 
him that several men inquired what was wrong. At din- 
ner time he hovered near the hotel, longing to enter but 
not daring. He had heard a certain amount of gossip 
about the new cook and housekeeper at Deegan's ; and he 
had heard among other things that she almost always 
went for a walk in the afternoon, tiie time between dinner 
and supper affording her best opportunity. For this 
h,e waited, determined to speak to her alone — ^he felt, that 
if his suspicions proved correct, he would desire no others 
to be present So he waited ; and now the time seemed to 
him very long, each minute like a summer's day ; and now 
it seemed too short, hurrying him on with unfair speed. 

"I know it is she," he said, and he was surprised to find 
how his heart beat. "But why the whisky? Atrial — or 
to ruin me again?'* 

He waited till at last he saw her come from the hotel 
and walk swiftly past where he sat, hidden in a machine 
shed. He watched her go and then followed, and though 
he had not seen the face plainly yet he knew the figure and 



82 



*>i- 



Constance West 



the walk. His heart leaped within him as he saw ; he felt 
that whatever the issue it was good to see her again, a 
boon for which he had not dared to hope ; and as he fol- 
lowed her he murmured to himself in a constant whisper : 

*'To test me — or to ruin me ?" 

At first, while she was still within sight of the settle- 
ment he did not attempt to overtake her. Before long the 
trail led through a fairly large bluff of poplars, hiding 
them from the village. Then he quickened his pace, and 
she, hearing his eager footsteps, turned and faced him, 
knowing him as instantly as he had known her. 

''Connie," he said and his voice broke. "Oh, Connie," 
he repeated, "Connie, Connie." 

She looked at him with hungry eyes and as she looked 
she knew how greatly she still loved him. She had an im- 
pulse to throw herself on his breast, forgetting all her 
wrongs. In imagination she felt again, as vividly as 
though no gap of twenty years existed, his dear familiar 
arms tighten about her, pressing her closely to him. If he 
had made but one movement, so it would have befallen ; 
but he stood a little way distant with bent head and did 
not speak again. Still she devoured his appearance with 
eager looks and she noted every change. She had lost a 
young and handsome man full of boisterous life and 
spirits, she found one sad and careworn, marked by long 
suffering. She longed to comfort him, and her heart 
yearned so towards him that she felt the need of doing 
something to hold the anger that was slipping away from 
her so fast. She put up her hand and touched her blind 
eye, and the scar that ran from it down to the cheek bone. 
He saw the movement and shrank away with a little moan« 

"How you must hate me," he said* ^ 



83 



Comtance West 



"I do," she asserted vehemently. "I hate you— oh, 
how I hate you/' Within her, fierce hate and love as fierce 
so strove together, so mingled one with the other, diat 
she knew not which was conqueror. '1 hate you; yes, 
I hate and detest you as I have cause," she cried out 
loudly ; but had he taken her and kissed her how glad she 
would have been. 

Instead he sighed and dug at the ground with the toe of 
his boot 

''You have cause enough, I know," he said, and then 
abruptly : "Why did you bring that whisky ?" 

"Because I hate you so." 

"Did you wish to— to see me like that again?" 

"Yes/' she answered. 

"Oh, Connie," he said in a whisper, but she heard. For 
that moment love conquered liate ; she made a little move- 
ment towards him; in another second she would have 
been in his arms, forgiving and forgiven. Then he spoke 
again and the words he said were bitter to her — ^bitter as 
the memory of the past. "It was very nearly," he said, 
"It was at my lips and if I had drunk I should have gone 
mad ; but Annie called and I flung it away when I heard 
her." 

"How touching," sneered Mrs. West, and the twin 
memories of the two wrongs he had done her came back 
so that all her emotion froze, crystalizing into bitterest 
hate because it was she who had tempted him and another 
woman who had saved him. 

"It would have been my utter ruin," he said. "Did you 
really wish that ?" There was a note of appeal in his voice 
but she made no reply and he went on : "I have not tasted 
liquor since — ^not for many years. Immediately after- 

84 



Constance West 



wards, I was mad, I think. I tried to drink myself to 
death. But my father saved me from that — because he 
showed me it was more bitter to live.** 

**It would have been a fitting death for you/ she an- 
swered ; "why did he interfere ?* 

He looked at her with some wonder at her bitterness ; 
but put aside the thought, sa3ring to himself his actions had 
given her cause enough. "At first I hoped you had 
brought the whisky as a trial — a test," he said presently ; 
"that perhaps you meant you might forgive some day if I 
conquered the desire?*' 

"Did you?** she answered scornfully, with increased an- 
ger. "I came because I hated you — because — ** she threw 
wide her arms with a passionate gesture— ^1)ecause I 
could not live without revenge/* 

^TRevenge,** he said with wonder in his voice. "Have 
you not had enough — ^these twenty years ?** 

**No,** she answered ; "and I am hungry for it" 

^^What do you want, then?** 

"To ruin you.** 

"Ruin? I will not take to drink again— even for you. 
But anything else you desire I will do — it is your right.** 

*'Oh, right,** she said with infinite scorn. "You have 
left me no rights.** 

**You shall have every penny I possess if that is what 
you want'* 

"It is like you,*' she answered sneering ; "to think a few 
pounds will wipe out what you did.** 

"My death, then?** he said and his eyes were very 
weary. "I swore to my father that I would never seek it 
—but I have longed for it — ^yes, I have longed for it— 
every day since.'* 



8s 



Constance West 



"Every day/' she repeated with bitter emphasis and she 
held him for a hypocrite, "And Annie ?" she asked. 

He went very pale, "I was mad/' he said. "Mad and 
bad and wicked. For six months I was never sober. But 
what I did I did ; and it cannot be undone. It vras not 
Annie's fault, poor child. God knows I repent ; and, Con- 
stance, ataything you desire as proof, I will do." 

"Treat this brat as you treated me." 

"Of course you do not mean that/' he said. 

"Do you love her?" 

"She is my daughter — she has claims upon me— I can<« 
not deny them— even for you." 

"Oh/' she cried in sudden rage ; "to see you really suf • 
fer — ^instead of all these words/' 

"Suffer?" he said and again there was a note of wonder 
in his voice. "I have suffered — ^I do not think you can 
make me suffer more." 

"I will try/' she said and her look and her tone were 
bitter ; bitter as hate, child of sin and death. "Oh/' she 
cried, "I will find a way." 

"There is nothing that can hurt me more than the 
memory of what I did that day," he said slowly ; "and of 
how I lived the time following. Can you not understand? 
It is living hell/' he burst out when she did not answer ; 
"it is worse than any flames." 

"You shall feel the flames, too," she said with a malign 
look. "There is Annie." 

"But you would not hurt her?" he said in puzzled tones, 
and then he thought he understood. "You will tell her 
everything?" 

1 will make you suffer through her.** 

'Yes/' he $aid thoughfuUy ; "you are right. It will be 

86 



"] 



Constance West 



bad to see what I did — ^my sin — ruin her life, toa And 
she will despise me so ; that will hurt a little. Yes, you 
are right, Connie^ and I should not complain. Only it's 
hard on the child." 

"You think of her and not of me," cried Mrs. West with 
a fresh jealousy. 

"Why," he said, trying to understand. "But— oh, well, 
you have a right to do what you will. You shall tell her 
if you wish, I will not try to prevent you. It will be an*? 
other life ruined, I expect, and through me. But, Connie, 
will you not at least believe that I am sorry for what I 
did, that I have repented it ever since, that I have hardly 
known a happy hour since? Connie, if you — " 

She did not seem to hear him and without waiting till 
he had finished began to walk back to the town. Suddenly 
she turned. 

"Liar and hypocrite," she said, as though she threw 
the words in bis face» and with that went quickly on her 
way. 

She hardly spoke again till the evening when she and 
Pierre, the little dish-washer were busy together in the 
kitchen, and he chanced to say something to her in which 
she only caught the word "forgive." 

"Forgive !" she cried. "Why, not even an angel could 
forgive such things." 

"But, Madame," protested Pierre in bewilderment; "it 
is only a broken pie-crust." 

"Oh," she said and came and lodced at it, long and 
steadily, while Pierre watched her in growing amazement, 
"Oh, yes," she said, "one can forgive that. Because, you 
see, Pierre, pie-crusts are made to be brdccn." 



87 



CHAPTER X 



ONE evening, a little later on, Deegan stood at the 
door of his hotel in the happiest of happy 
moods, pleased with himself, his supper, and his 
affairs in general, when he saw his rival, Cam- 
eron, approaching ; and then his deep content g^ew deeper 
yet. That day had seen one, George Hope, a hitherto 
consistent patron of Cameron's, enticed to Deegan's hotel 
by the new fame of its pies. 

^'Evening, Cameron," observed Deegan genially. "Say," 
he added, "have you seen Georgie Hope around any- 
where? I wanted to ask him somethin'/' 

Cameron stopped and scowled in recognition of the in- 
sult. For a moment he hesitated on the point of open war- 
fare and then decided to return taunt for taunt He faced 
Deegan squarely and flung at him words that scattered 
his smiling content as a stone, well aimed, scatters feed- 
ing birds. 

"Is it true about Mrs. West and John Leigh ?" he asked. 

For answer Deegan swore angrily* "It's the worst kind 
of a lie/' he declared and then asked : "What is it, any- 
way?" for with all his Brave denial he was uneasy, re- 
membering that Mrs. West had seemed interested in the 
Leighs and had flatly refused to talk about her late visit 
to them. 

"Oh, I don't know," answered Cameron, keenly con- 
scious of the other's dismay. "Likely enough it is all lies, 

88 



Constance West 



only I did hear things was all fixed up. I was told as John 
Leigh was hangin' around town all one mornin' and was 
talkin' to her all afternoon. 'Course, I don't know — 
only young Buckly he let on in my place as he saw 'em 
together out there." 

"Young Buckly is an awful liar," said Deegan, but with- 
out conviction. 

"That's so,'* agreed CamercMi. "Then she didn't go 
there visitin' the other day?" 

"Oh, you get," said Deegan and retreated inside the 
hotel. 

Just behind the dining room^ was a little apartment he 
called his office and there he retired, vastly disturbed, to 
think things out; occasionally in an abstracted manner 
swearing softly to himself. 

"It's so," he said finally, speaking his thoughts aloud to 
arrange them more clearly, as is often the custom of men 
unused to any conscious effort of continued meditation. 
*'He's got round her — ^there ain't no doubt of it. Reckon 
likely she was foolin' me all along and that was what she 
was after, doggone her. I might have guessed it, her story 
was so almighty thin ; a body with a grain of horse-sense 
would have known it was a put up job. Tryin' to hocus a 
man with good whisky; whyl any ordinary fool would 
have known more'n to believe that She just wanted to 
get on his right side, likely ; though I don't quite see all 
her game yet Still, it's clear most of it. She comes 
askin' about 'em ; she makes an excuse to go there i the 
very next day he comes to town and hangs round to sec 
hen Then she's a widow and a plum-dandy at cookin', 
and he's a widower an' the best fixed man in the county — 
not the shadow of a mortgage oh the tail of one of his 



89 



Constance West 



cows. So I reckon I'd better get out and hustle — see the 
thing through right away." 

He got up with an air of determination, walked quickly 
to the door and then paused and shodc his head slowly. 

"It's just an awful risk," he said ; "an* me so used to 
batchin'. Maybe I'd better try an' hire another cook and 
just let this slide. But then I'll save wages on the deaL" 
This thought quite restored his decision and he opened 
the door briskly. "But I do hope/' he muttered as he 
went out, "that she ain't one of 'em that talks at night." 

The yard of the hotel was quite deserted, and with the 
manner of a man determined to waste no time in disposing 
of a necessary but rather irks(Hne task, he walked straight 
on. The Stable stood just across the yard and behind it 
was a piece of land held by building speculators ; virgin 
prairie that stretched away, untouched by man, to the un- 
known North. Here as Deegan knew, Mrs. West often 
came before retiring for the night, and here accordingly 
he now found her ; to his surprise not sitting quietly but 
pacing restlessly to and fro. 

She did hot see him at first, absorbed in some strong 
emotion that urged her to find relief in movement. Dee- 
gan watched her for a little and then stepping forward 
stumbled over some harrows, upsetting them with a crash. 
Mrs. West sprang aside with a little startled cry, and then 
she saw who it was and grew angry. 

"What do you come here for ?" she asked. "What do 
you want ?" 

Deegan sat where he was on the ground and looked up 
at her. With this small white faced woman standing over 
bim, dimly seen in the darkness, the proposition he had 
comt to make no longer seemed quite so natural or so 



90 



Constance West 



simple. He was conscious of an unexpected awkward* 
ness. He found refuge in rubbing his shins and declaring 
he had lost a square foot of skin. 

"What do you want?" asked Mrs, West sharply, cutting 
short his lamentations. "Didn't you know I was here?" 

"Yes'm," said Deegan meekly. "That's why I ccwne.'* 

"Then what do you mean by such impertinence?" de- 
manded Mrs. West and all the tumult of her varying emo« 
tions thrilled in the anger that was in her voice. 

"There ain't no call to get mad about it," he complained. 
"I only came to say as you an' me had better get hitched." 

"Get what ?" she asked. 

"Hitched. Be partners, you know ; get married." 
•. "Married," she repeated, catching at the word she un- 
derstood and her anger giving way to wonder, "But 
who?" 

"Why, you an' me, of course. I'll fix everythin' just as 
soon as you like. May as well get it over." 

"What do you mean?" she asked. "Have you been 
drinking?" she added as a possible explanation occurred 
to her. 

"No," he said indignantly ; "I have not been drinking 
and, as an American citizen^ I hope I know better what is 
due to a lady than to suggest hitchin' while drunk. No, 
ma'am, I am not drunk." 

"Then you're a fool," said Mrs, West and resumed her 
restless pacing to and fro, 

"Meanin'/' said Deegan ; "meanin', I suppose, that you 
don't want to chip in ?" 
^ "Oh, go away," answered Mrs. West impatiently. 

^'Well, that beats all/' said Deegan and moved to go. 



91 



Constance West 



Suddenly he stopped, came back again, and called : "'Mrs. 
West, ma'am." 

"Well?" she said. 

"I don't think, ma'am, that you quite caught on," he 
said slowly ; "you bein' a Britisher naturally ain't quick at 
catchin' on. But what I mean is hitchin' right an' tight, 
so as you would be boss, after me, of course, and run 
things to suit yourself. It's a good hotel." 

Mrs. West made no answer, and Deegan added after a 
pause: 

"And I don't mind lettin' you know as there's a thou- 
sand dollar mortgage on Wright's, hot to mention ten 
shares in the mill and three in the creamery. In all of 
which you would be a partner, ma'am, and the hotel ain' 
doin' so bad." 

"Oh," said Mrs. West, "why don't you go away in- 
stead of babbling there?" 

"I said hitchin' and hitchin' I meant," replied Deegan in 
deep offence, "but when it comes to babblin* I quit right 
away ; seein' I'm as sober as a new bom babe." 

With this he walked off, muttering ang^ly to himself. 

"I reckon/' he said as he went into the bar for the drink 
he thought he quite deserved ; "I reckon it's an escape — 
you never know how a woman will shape when she takes 
hold. Oh, it's a real escape for me, that's a sure thing, 
an' I'm mighty thankful, I am." 

None the less he watched the hotel yard closely, and 
when later on he saw Mrs. West walking across it he 
slipped out and confronted her. 

"Is it John Leigh ?" he asked abruptly. 

'Really," she answered, half puzzled, half angry ; "you 



t*i 



03 



Constance West 



are behaving very strangely, Mr. Deegan. What do you 
mean?'* 

"Because/* he continued, following his own line of 
thought, "if it is, there's goin' to be trouble — ^bad trouble." 

"Trouble," she repeated. "Oh, trouble enough." 
. "It is Leigh, then?" 

""What do you mean ?" 

"I'm talkin', ain't I? Are you goin' to marry John 
Leigh?" 

"Oh," she said, "is that it ? No, it is quite certain I shall 
never do that — uneven" 

"That's all right, then," said Deegan heartily and then 
added: "What about me?" 

"Really," she said ; "it is too absurd. Do you want mo 
to go?" 

"Tain't likely when I'm sayin' hitch all the time, is it ? 
[Why do you reckon I want to hitch except to stop you 
from quittin', and me havin' all the trouble o£ gettin' a 
new cook?" 

"I have no intention of leaving at present. Does that 
satisfy you?" 

"You'll be like all the rest of 'em," said Deegan gloom- 
ily ; "you'll slip off some day and send a note to say you're 
hitched and will I send your baggage on. I give you 
•wamin' — ^I'U kick any man that brings that message twice 
round the yard." 

"Will you ?" said Mrs. West, laughing in spite of her- 
self. 

"I will so. Well, I'm sorry you don't see your way to 
chip in for it strikes me as a good sound business arrange- 
ment Of course, it's your say, but it do seem surprisin' 
fc' mind I won't have that Leigh interf erin'." 



93 



Cotutance Wett 






"Why not?" 

I hate 'em worse nor poison," he answered 
So do I." She tried to ccMitrcd her voice bat the words 
cried their message of stinging rage through the hissing 
emphasis she gave thenu "Oh, so do I/' she said again. 

"Don't fret," said Deegan rather bewildered at her tone. 
"Maybe you'll find a chance to get even with him some 
day." 

"Yes," she answered sombrely; "some day," and she 
slipped past him into the house. 

He looked after her, for some time, standing where she 
had left him. 

"She's a mighty queer woman," he said to himself. "I 
never struck another like her. It's most surprisin' her 
tumin' me down Uke that. A mighty nice woman, too, 
when she ain't mad ; and. Lord, then she looks real fine. 
I reckon, maybe^ it ain't so much of an escape after all. 
She would make a dandy fine wife and double the business 
of the hotel, too. Say, Tom Deegan, if you had the hotel 
boomin' like it would, and her to boss around and see to 
things ; why, you wouldn't want to call a N' York million- 
aire your uncle." He tried to dismiss the alluring thought 
but it would not go. "It's most almi^ty queer," he mut- 
tered; "but I do believe I'm sorry she declined evert 
though she said she was stayin'. Sure as shootin' I do be- 
lieve I'd rather have her for a wife than for a cook — but, 
of course, that might be on account of the wages." 

This last reflection consoled him a little, restoring to 
him his favourable opinion of his business instincts. He 
was walking back towards the stable to see that all was 
right for the night when he felt a light touch on his arm 
and turning saw Mrs. West again by his side. 



94 



Constance West 






"Is that Mr. Briscoe in the bar?" she asked in a low 
eager whisper. 

"Eh? Briscoe? Is he there? The young fool; I told 
him to go home an hour ago." 

"Does he — ?" Her grasp tightened on his arm, and he 
felt her touch with strange emotion. "Does he — ? Does 
he— drink?" 

You couldn't call it drinkin'," said Deegan impartially. 
Only if he gets with the boys, he's apt to get a jag on. 
No, he don't drink, so to say, but he can't stand even a 
little bit — ^goes to his head right away. It's a sort of nat- 
ural weakness," concluded Deegan with sympathy, "so 
he ou^t to keep clear of it altc^ether." 

"I see," said Mrs. West. "Does he often?" 

"Oh, no; only once in a while. Only he gets excited so 
blame quick, he didn't ought to touch it at alL" 

"I heard," said Mrs. West abruptly ; "that he was much 
with Annie Leigh." 

"That's so," said Deegan. "Reckon he's courtin*. 
Some one ought to tell her. But he'd be all right if he was 
taken in hand." 

Suddenly Mrs. West caught his open coat with both 
hands. She shodc him with all her strength and spoke in- 
tensely. 

"Do you hate him?** she said. "I da I love him — Oh, 
how I hate him." 

"Who ? Leigh ?" he asked a little bewildered. "You bet, 
I'm layin' for him all the time — ^the first show I get— 
you'll see." 

"Do you — ^will you help ?* 

He looked down at her and he was suddenly afraid; 
and it seemed most strange to him Aat he should be 

95 



Constance West 



afraid before this small and slender woman whom he could 
have crushed with one movement He did not answer her. 
His heavy body hardly felt her feeble strength though 
she shook him with all her might, but gradually his dull 
soul lighted, answering to the fire of her intent words. 

"Hate/' she said in clear whispers. "Hate— hate — hate 
him." 

"Yes/' he said and swore by sacred things. "I'll help/' 
He touched her on the breast and then himself. "Part- 
ners/' he said ; "you and me." 

"Partners/* she repeated; "you and me. Go and give 
Briscoe all the drink he wants." 

"Right/' he said. "I'll fill him— full" 

He went swiftly and as she saw him go she laughed — 
low and gently, and stopped with shudders. 



96 



CHAPTER XI 




** H^ RECKON," said Deegan thoughtfully as the 
next morning he surveyed his chin in the 
broken square of mirror that adorned his bed- 
room wall; "I reckon I had better shave though 
it !lo seem ridiculous seein' I done it only last week — ^but 
she told Pierre he was a fair disgrace and she went for 
Joe Wright, too." 

He sat down on the edge of his bed and stropped his 
razor, but slowly and with an air of deliberation that 
seemed to hint a mind occupied with some grave problem. 
However he completed the operation in silence and then 
again lost himself in'thought, staring intently at his re* 
flection in the broken mirror. At last he spoke aloud. 

"It's a mean low down trick," he said; and I won't 
have anything more to do with it That boy didn't want 
to get drunk, and he wouldn't have got drunk, neither, 
only for me. He was awful bad, too, and he'll feel awful 
bad about it this morning. No, I'll quit; though Mrs. 
West does look at you so— so queer like — ^as though you 
just got to. But the girl never harmed me nor young 
Briscoe, neither, it's her pa I'm after, not her, and so I'll 
tell Mrs. West right away — at least — well, right after 
ibreakfast." 

Filled with this determination he went downstairs and 
pursued the ordinary duties of the morning, taking care 
however to be as seldom as possible near Mrs. Wefit,.wliom 



97 



Constance West 



none the less he watched from a distance intently enough. 
After breakfast he found an errand that would necessitate 
a long drive into the country and instantly it appeared 
to him that this required immediate attention, that he 
must set off that very hour, and that therefore the inter* 
view with Mrs. West must be postponed He went out- 
side to make arrangements and had just returned when 
suddenly Mrs. West came so quickly into the room that 
he had no opportunity of avoiding the meeting he secretly 
dreaded. The remorse of the lad whom he had persuaded 
to his fall the night before had really affected him, but 
though he had determined to have no more to do with 
Mrs. West's schemes, he did not anticipate with pleasure 
the task of explaining this to her* 
g ^'How is Briscoe?*' she asked. 

^ *'Bad/' said Deegan^ "awful bad, says he ain't fit to 
live, says hell cut his throat Oh, he's feelin' real mean 
about it." He felt a renewed pity for his victim, an in- 
creased determination to be done with such things, and 
he added abruptly, "See here, I wanted to speak to you." 

She looked up at him very steadily and waited in dis- 
concerting silence. 

"See now," he said and thumped the table that the 
noise might increase his ebbing courage; "I won't have 
it— you hear m(B?" 

"Have you had bad dreams?" she asked, looking at 
him with curiosity* 

"Awful," he said wiffi a shudder: "How did you 
know?" 

. "Dreams do not matter," she answered slowly. "It is 
ibe awakenmg that faurts«" 

98 



Constance West 



"I don't know what you're gettin' at — ^and I wish you 
•wouldn't stare at me like that — ^like you saw horrors." 

"I am sorry," she said and walking to the window she 
remained looking from it while Deegan fidgeted by the 
table. Presently she spoke. 

"I make you a fair offer/' she said. "Drive me down 
to the railway and I will take the next train and you 
shall never see me again." 

Still she did not look round, but she wsuted eagerly for 
his reply — ^with parted lips, scarce breathing — ^not know- 
ing what she desired but conscious how much depended on 
his words and determined to abide by them. She had an 
odd feeling that she was no longer responsible, that she 
had thrown the burden of the decision upon Fate ; like a 
gambler who has staked his all, she waited. 

"Now you're mad," said Deegan slowly. He had a 
vision of the hotel without her; bare and desolate, and 
again ill-cooked slovenly meals. "I did not mean to 
offend you, ma'am ; and as for driving you to the depot— 
not much if I can help it." 

"Very well," she answered with a deep sigh. "It is 
the will of God," she said to herself, and shrank not from 
the blasphemy. She moved across and sat down at the 
table opposite to Deegan and smiled at him who still 
fidgetted and moved uneasily till half reluctantly he smiled 
back. "Now let us understand each other," she said; 
"you hate John Leigh because you know he means to 
make this town prohibition and that means — *' 

*'The restaurant will pay," he answered, "if you stop. 
The boys like your way of cookin' and servin' up things 
first rate*" 

"But Cameron's is pc^ular, too ; and there is not room 



Corutance West 



for two dining places in the town. If it is prohibiticm, one 
of you will have to go ; and unless I stay it is just as cer- 
tain that one will be you." 

''There's the mortgage/' he said sulkily; ''and the 
shares/' 

"Wright can't even pay the interest this year, you know 
that As for the mill, there is likely to be a fresh call 
this fall I'm told, and as for the creamery, you couldn't sell 
a share for five dollars cash." 

"Well — supposin' — ^what are you rubbin' it in for^ any- 
way?" 

"I wish you to see clearly where you stand* If prohibi- 
tion is brought in, it's — " 

"Ruin," said Deegan. "Oh, I know and I've stopped 
awake thinJdn' of it Curse that Leigh — ^I think — ^" 

"You think— what?" said Mrs. West 

"I could shoot him," said Deegan and his white face 
looked dangerous. 

She laughed across the table — z bitter sneering laugh. 

"Bravo," said she. "And then—?" 

"I don't know. But he'd be dead, anyway." 

"Oh, you foolish fellow, that would be no good. You 
would have to run away or stand trial It would mean 
hanging." 

"They are certainly almighty particular on this side," 
agreed Deegan gloomily. 

"Even if you escaped that, it would mean gaol for a 
long term, and what would happen to the hotel then?" 

"That's true," he said and then cried out : "What shall 
I do then?" 

"Besides, the murder of a prohibitionist by a saloon- 
keeper would double their voting strength and put all 



loo 



Constance West 



sympathy on their side — ^the 'blood of the martyrs/ you 
know/^ and again she laughed sneeringly. 

'1 don't see ho joke," he complained. ''This thing 
means a lot to me." 

"Does it? Whatr 

"Trampin* — ^tumin' hobo— a haymow and a handout 
for the rest of my life. I started a tramp— my pa and 
ma were tramps, I reckon — I was one till I got a job dean-* 
ing stables at Pottsville. It was all so strange^ getting 
your grub as a right and having a place where you be* 
longed, that I just cottoned to it. I just did ; and there 
wasn't a cleaner stable in all the States than mine; no^ 
nor a harder man on tramps — I despised 'em so. And I 
worked for all I was worth. Then I come here and set 
up this opposition show to Cameron's. It ain't done so 
terrible bad and I've worked early and late, ma'am ; why, 
there ain't a nail on the place I ain't drove, nor a piece of 
wood I don't know — ^and love. There ain't a better re- 
spected saloonkeeper in the county — ^there ain't a better 
fixed hotel — ^painted inside and out every year. Ma'am, if 
God made the world, I made this hotel — ^and I just love 
it — and if I have to close down I'll go back to trampin* 
for I shan't be fit for nothin' else— and shan't want to be, 
neither." 

He put down his head, resting it on his hands, and she 
saw that he had difiiculty to repress a sob. At another 
time she would have pitied him, but now she was glad. 

"That's why you wouldn't hitch, I reckon," he said 
presently. "It's the first time I ever faced the thing 
squarely, and I shouldn't now only you seemed to put it all 
so clear. I just seemed to see it. The hotel shut down, 
and the bare road, and the brakesmen peltin' you from 

loi 



Constance West 



the trains, and the dogs barkin' at you at the farms, and 
the deputies givin' you an hour to be clear of the towns, 
and the very children shoutin' after you — and not one 
place where you belong." 

"Yes," said Mrs. West slowly ; "yes, it will ccwne to that 
without a doubt. Unless — " 

"Unless — Oh, ma'am, is there a way out?" 

"Of course." 

"Tell it me — " he spoke fiercely. "I can't see nothin' 
myself, ^ut the shut hotel and the long roads with me 
trampin' on 'em." 

"But just now you said you would have nothing more 
to do with it ? That it was a mean trick." 

"I don't give a cent how mean it is," he answered 
"Not now." 

"To save your hotel you must defeat the prohibitionist 
movement. The .easiest way to defeat a movement is to 
ruin the leader — ^John Leigh. Or he will ruin you." 

"That's fair enough," said Deegan ; "he begun it.". 

"My plan is simple. Briscoe drinks, and we can help 
him to marry Annie Leigh. It will ruin her father as a 
prohibitionist to have his son-in-law a customer of yours 
and on your side." 

"But," said Deegan doubtfully ; "do you reckon that'll 
work? And it's a trifle rough on the girl, you know." 

"To help her to a good marriage," said Mrs. West 
with an appearance of surprise. "A man is no worse for 
taking a drop of drink, is he?" 

"Of course he ain't," said Deegan stoutly. 

"I have been persuaded of that these twenty years/* 
said Mrs. West smiling at him* "Now I wish to per* 



102 



Constance West 



suade Mr. Leigh and his daughter for I fear they may be 
bigoted." 

"A man's rather better if anything/' asserted Deegan, 
btit with just a shade of hesitation in his voice. 

"Of course/' observed Mrs, West noticing it ; "if you 
would prefer to go on tramp—" 

"Ohy quit/' said Deegan spreading his hands before his 
eyes as though to shut out something he saw. "But sup* 
pose Leigh says he don't give a red and just goes on with 
his prohibition after his girl's married? He's tough — ^you 
don't know him — but he's real tough." 

"No/' said Mrs. West; "of course I may not know 
him, but I can tell you this — if you follow my advice you 
will ruin him. He drank himself at one time aiid I 
should not wonder if Briscoe did not start him again — a 
trifle will do it, he is not cured yet though he thinks he 
is. Now, where is this lad Briscoe?" 

"In the third room. Why?" 

"I want to see him." 

"Mind yourself then. He was awful mad when I took 
him in a drink this morning and got reachin' for his 
razor. You see, he's sorter sick of himself." 

"He won't hurt me. You think over what I said. Re- 
member, ruin and the road again or — It's you or Leigh ; 
one must go under, you or Leigh." 

With a nod she left the room and he heard her going 
upstairs. 

"Me or Leigh," repeated Deegan. "It's true, Leigh or 
me. As for you, you're just a she-devil but all the same 
I want you." Suddenly his words seemed to astonish 
him. He repeated them in a lower tonei and stared about 



103 



Constance Weit 



him with a curious air of surprise. '"Lordl That's tnightj; 
queer/' he said. 

He sat down again and meditated m silence for some 
few minutes, and his countenance expressed clearly his 
feeling of amazement 

"It's truth," he said presently ; "Aat's what's been puz- 
zling me." He looked down at himself as though not 
quite certain of his own identity. "I do reckon this is 
what women-folk call bein' — ^bein' in love." 

He walked away, shaking his head solemnly. 



104 



CHAPTER XII, 



OUTSIDE the bedroom Mrs. West hestitated a 
little and then knocked. There was no answer 
and so she knocked again and then as there was 
still no notice taken she entered. 

On the bed half dressed and all dishevelled lay Arthur 
Briscoe, his cheeks white, his eyes dull and glassy, and his 
head so closely buried in his arms that he had heard 
neither Mrs. West's knocking nor her entrance. On a 
chair by the bed-side stood a water jug half empty, and 
on a small table by the window lay an open razor. The 
lad's whole appearance was indescribably forlorn, it was 
evident that the bed had not been slept in, even his boots 
he had never removed and little bits of straw and hay 
dung to his person. The sunshine peeped in at a corner 
of the window blind ; and Mrs. West smiled as she glanced 
round, well satisfied. 

She went up to the bed and put one hand on his 
shoulder. He rolled over and stared up at her^ not clearly 
comprehending who she was. 

"Does your head ache?" she asked. 

"Splitting," he answered. 

"Drink this," she said putting a glass to his lips ; "it 
will make you feel better." 

He shook his head. "I won't," he said. "Get out of 
this." He rolled over again. 

105 ^ 



Constance West 



"You are not very polite," she observed with a laugh. 
"I never had a thing like that said to me before." 



"Oh, I beg your pardon. I don't want to be bothered. 
Deegan was here. If he comes again, I'll kill him." 

She laughed a second time, though it hardly seemed as 
though she were much amused. She guessed why he re- 
fused — ^that in his self disgust, he had determined never 
to drink spirits again. 

"This is medicine," she said, "it is not whisky — ^just 
smell — ^there is peppermint" 

She bent down and slipped one hand between his burn- 
ing forehead and the pillow. She spoke gently and half 
by persuasion ; half by quiet pressure she made him sit 
up and drink off the contents of the tumbler she held. 
Once he had tasted it he drank eagerly, tilting the glass 
to get every drc^, and sighing as he put it down that there 
was no more. Then she made him lie down again; in 
spite of his protests she removed his boots and loosened 
his shirt collar, and then as though he were a baby she 
sponged his face and hands and rubbed them with a lit- 
tle eau-de-cologne. 

"That is good," he murmured ; "you are very kind." 

"Now you must sleep," she said. 

He closed his eyes obediently, but almost at once opened 
them again. 

"There wasn't any whisky in that medicine?" he asked. 

"Not a drop," she answered ; quite truly though brandy 
had been its chief ingredient, the taste disguised by various 
spices. She smiled down at him as she spoke, and his eyes 
closed again so that soon she knew he was sleeping 
quietly. 

After dinner she returned and when Briscoe woke later 

io6 



Constance West 



on she was still watching by him. He lay for a little in 
silence, his head felt better now and his brain clearer. 
Gradually he remembered his conduct of the night before 
and he groaned softly in supreme disgust at himself. In- 
stantly she was by his side, soothing him with gentle 
words. 

"I made such a beast of myself last night/' he cried, the 
impulse of confession strong upon him. "You wouldn't 
touch me if you knew." 

^'It would be a strange and hard woman that could 
despise a man for cme slip," she said slowly — ^very slowly 
and distinctly. "It is always a woman's place and her 
joy to help a man to do better and to conquer himself." 
Then still slowly and distinctly she repeated the words 
over again as though she wished to impress the thought 
on his mind. "It would be a strange and hard woman 
that could despise a man for one slip ; it is always her place 
and her joy to help the man on to better things." 

He lay still without speaking but his lips moved and it 
was evident he repeated her words to himself. Presently 
he said. 

"Do all women think that? But it is too much to ask. 
One has no right: it is not fair." 

"It is nof too much to ask," said Mrs. West in her slow, 
almost solemn tones ; "and it is not right to take f rcmi a 
woman her dearest privilege — ^that of helping the man." 

"Ah, but," he said, turning to her eagerly ; "you don't 
know — ^I will tell you — ^if you don't mind." 

"Indeed I don't," she answered and she laid a soft hand 
on his forehead. She wondered how she could increase 
his confidence. A phrase came into her mind, and the 
words formed themselves on her lips. Yet she hestitated 



107 



Constance West 



over uttering them longer than she had hestitated aver 
worse things. Even through her mad mood of reckless 
hate, she felt the words a betrayal of the most sacred in* 
stinct of her sex. ''But to make John Leigh suffer — any- 
thing, anything/' she muttered with a quick thrill— K>f 
horror, of joy, of she knew not what strange emotion. In 
a voice low and gentle and quite steady, she said : ''Tell 
me all, dear lad; think it is your mother — ^your mother 
you speak to." 

"You are awfully good," he said miserably ; "but you 
don't understand — even mother — and you don't under- 
stand." He stopped and shuddered, but the need for 
sympathy was on him and in broken words he told his 
story: how in England he had got into bad hands, how 
he had learnt to drink — a little; how one day there had 
been a public scene ; and how then his angry father had 
sent him out to America to conquer the habit or fail as it 
might chance, but at least far from another scandal. 

"By yourself you must fail," said Mrs. West softly, 
"but if you could find some one to help you — some one to 
help you always — ^you might soon conquer it." 

"Do you think so?" said Briscoe and again he was 
silent 

"I am sure of it," said Mrs. West earnestly; "and 
such a chance is the greatest privilege a woman can ob- 
tain. Think what it is to us to lode at scxat great man 
and know that but for us he would be worthless — ^to hear 
him praised and know that but for our help he would 
be outcast from society." 

He was silent, looking at her with meditative eyes. 
Then he said. 

But you don't know — I break out — ^I want to quarrel 



u^ 



io8 



Constance West 



with every one — ^I am a beast — I hit ^ barmaid once.** He 
said this with difficulty and with stammering. "That's 
why father sent me out here," he concluded, 

"Violent," said Mrs. West, and she hid her face that he 
might not see the wicked joy that shone there, "But with 
some good woman's constant help?" 

"A man has no right to ask or accept such a sacrifice," 
he said slowly. 

"Ahl" she cried; "you do not understand. It is be- 
cause you need that you have a right" 

She sat by his side and talked to him gently, soothing 
his remorse, restoring his self respect and always dwelling 
upon the need he had of a woman's help. At last by little 
hints she let him see she guessed he loved Annie Leigh, 
and then he cried out in a sudden passion of self repulsion 
that he was lower than the brutes and not worthy to touch 
her hands. 

"Then let her make you worthy," said Mrs. West 

"Ah, if she only would," he said and again he listened 
while she told him, most willing to be convinced, how 
deeply Annie or any woman would value the privilege of 
reforming him. At last it seemed to him that because 
he needed reformation he was actually more worthy — ^not 
less. With perverted skill she showed that all men have 
weaknesses, that it was natural and to be expected, that 
those who had none lay in some vague way under sus- 
picion of a worse thing, that only men with vices to over- 
come were worthy a good woman's care. Nor, as she 
with her sweet gentle smile and quiet voice talked thus to 
him, did her words seem wicked or even nonsensical. He 
almost became proud of himself for needing reformation 
and glad to think that Annie would secure so admirable a 

109 



Cofutance West 



subject for her efforts. Mrs. West saw dearly enough 
as she talked where the half truth ended and the great 
untruth began and she even prided herself on the dexterity 
with which she wove the two together and made it all 
seem one, warp and weft together. 

At last she went away, leaving Briscoe fully determined 
to prosecute his suit with Annie and feeling that no great 
effort was needed on his part to conquer his failing since 
that would be a pleasing duty to devolve upon his future 
wife. 

Mrs. West had not been downstairs long, and was oc- 
cupied in preparing the supper, when Deegan came into 
the kitchen. She told him that everything was going 
well and that she intended visiting the Leighs the next 
day. 

Deegan had been leaning against the wall listening with 
eagerness and with rather a puzzled feeling, for he did 
not quite see the meaning of all this manoeuvring. But 
at this last remark he scowled angrily and then asked in a 
very sulky tone: 
'What forr 

1 have reasons," she said, rather surprised at his ex*- 
pression, but simply supposing that something had hap- 
pened to annoy him. "I wish to see them." 

"You appear powerful fond of seein* 'em,** he re- 
marked. 

'*It is necessary." 

"I don't see no necessity,** he retorted. "I don't catch 
on to all this dodgy business. Get at 'em and do for 'em, 
I say." 

'Do you want me to leave the affair ?" she asked with 



it' 



«r 



tlO 



Constance West 



exasperation. "Upon my word I never met so foolish a 
person as you/* 

"Oh, go on, call me somethin' more," said Deegan 
gloomily, "I know I'm only dirt, I don't mind. Jump 
on me with both feet." 

"Simply go away and don't annoy me so. Then you 
won't get 'jumped on,' as you call it." 

"You appear to be in a mighty hurry to see them Leighs 
again." 

"I am." 

"Well, what for?" 

"That's my affair." 

"Oh, all right. Now, you listen to me — if you get thick 
with John Leigh, I'll shoot htm ; sure thing, I will." 

"I am not likely to get thick with him," said Mrs. West 
slowly. "You heed not fear that." 

"Oh, you talk," said Deegan. "But what are you so al- 
mighty anxious to see him again for?" 
I told you — I have plans." 

Mind you don't fool me any, that's all. For I mean it 
all right about the shootin'." He nodded to her as though 
to emphasize his words and then walked out of the 
kitchen. 

Upon my word," said Mrs. West as she saw him go ; 
I do believe the silly man is jealous — ^well, that is funny." 

This thought continued to amuse her at intervals un* 
til she forgot all about it 



tr 






til 



CHAPTER XIIL 



JOHN Leigh was busy working in the fields on the 
afternoon of the following day when his father, 
who had ridden over on some message, came 
walking slowly towards him. 

*'She is over there/' he said as he came up to his soa 
and laid one hand on the plough. The fresh sweet smell 
of the new turned earth came up to them and the labour- 
ing horses, glad of the respite, stood placidly, their only 
movement to whisk away intrusive flies. The two men 
looked at each other. "She is with Annie," added the old 
man, and John nodded his head gloomily. 

"She will tell her everything," he said. "Weill it's 
my own doing and I must not complain." 

"Poor lad," said the old man and put his hand on the 
other's shoulder, looking at him kindly. "I think Annie 
ought to be told. It seems hardly fair to the child herself 
that she should hear the story as Constance may tell it — 
for Constance is very bitter, I fear." 

"Can you wonder? It may be hard on Annie, but it is 
.Connie's right to be considered first, and I said she should 
do exactly as she liked. Did you speak to her — ^had she 
said an)rthing?" 

"No, not yet. They were talking together. I only 
waited a moment and then came to tell you. But Annie 
was pressing her to stay to supper." 

"It is far to come to go back before then, now that the 

112 



Constance West 



evenings are longer," said John as though the point re- 
quired deep thought. He took hold of the plough handles 
again and stood ready to start. '"I won't come in to sup- 
per to-night," he said. "Do you mind telling Pete to 
bring out the other team at five? I will work straight on 
till dusk. If Connie wishes to tell Annie she shall at 
least have opportunity." 

He called to his horses and set off again. For a little 
the old man watched them as they went steadily up the 
field, turning the earth in a long straight furrow and then 
he walked slowly back towards the house, shaking his 
head as he went and muttering to himselL 

"Poor John, poor boy," he said. "Poor Annie. Poor 
Connie; poor, poor Connie." 

In the shelter of a bluff he paused and sat down on 
the grass, watching the roof of the house, just visible 
above the trees in the garden that surrounded it. He 
knew that Mrs. West sat there with Annie and he won- 
dered and dreaded what she might say. 

Meanwhile on the pleasant verandah of the house, en- 
]oymg the warm sunshine of the spring, Annie talked 
happily with her guest. She had welcomed her cordially 
yet with a touch of constraint that her visitor noticed im- 
mediately. Presently the conversation dropped for a 
moment and suddenly Annie leaned forward and said : 

"You know, Mrs. West, I know all about that with 
father." 

"Oh," said Mrs. West and looked at her with swift 
doubt. There was a slight flush on Annie's cheeks and her 
eyes were downcast. With the toe of her shoe she was 
pushing at the trellis work at the front of the verandah 



113 

^ H 



Constance Wat 



and she continued when Mrs. West made no further 
answer : 

"Father is very different from the other people round 
here. Some of them don't seem to mind how much they 
owe, but father is always very particular and always pays 
everything and I am sure — I am sure that quite soon — 
very soon — " 

"Do you think so?** said Mrs, West vaguely. She saw 
that some remark was expected, but did not quite know 
what to say. It was evident to her that Annie was under 
some misapprehension. 
"Oh, yes," said Annie, "I am sure he will pay you." 
"Oh, so am I," said Mrs, West; "he will indeed — ^to 
the last — ^to the uttermost farthing." 

"Yes," said Annie with a little surprise at the expression 
the other had used. 

"Of course, there is absolutely no hurry," continued 
Mrs. West. "I have waited twenty years — ^I can wait as 
long again." 

"Oh, but you shan't," cried Annie. "Father will man- 
age somehow. We might sell a cow or two," she added 
thoughtfully ; "and we could make quite a lot out of but- 
ter and eggs — I am dreadfully extravagant with cream," 
she added with a sigh. 

"I see," said Mrs. West, looking rather strangely at 
the eager girl, and understanding now that she supposed 
there was some question of money owing. For her own 
purposes Mrs. West was quite willing that Annie should 
remain under tiiis impression and so she smiled and con- 
tinued: "You must understand I am not in any hurry. 
I am quite willing the investment — I regard it as an in- 
vestment — should run on until I receive the last farthing. 



9» 



"4 



Constance West 



She smiled again as she said this and Annie shrank from 
some indefinable impression she received and then was an- 
gry with herself for such childishness. "I reckon," contin- 
ued Mrs, West, ''that the debt has just doubled since it 
was incurred ; but it will not prevent you from receiving 
me as a friend? I am so great a stranger here; I only 
came through a series of accidents, and I feel so much 
alone. It would be very dreadful if the accident of this 
debt cut me off from the only home-like, really English 
house I know of." 

"Oh, no ; of course not ;" said Annie hastily, her pleased 
expression showing how she appreciated the compliment 
"I am sure father will be glad to see you whenever you 
can come.'* 

"And then, my dear child," added Mrs. West with a 
smile that seemed both shy and charming; "if you will let 
me say so, it is very pleasant for an old woman like me 
to chat sometimes with young people again — ^if you don't 
find me too tiring." 

"Oh, you must not think that," cried Annie. "It is 
very nice of you to like to come," she added impulsively. 

"It is not my fault there is a debt," continued Mrs. 
West. "Let us quite forget all about it — ^will you ?— con- 
fident that your father will pay for all at the proper time — 
for all. Till then let us just be friends." 

"You are very good," said Annie simply. ' 

They went on talking, of the country, of the Old Coun- 
try Annie had never seen, of the hundred little details 
of home life on which all women have a common ground. 
Annie was deeply flattered to be asked for one or two 
recipes and almost as pleased to accept a hint or two 
herself. Once or twice, too, quite incidentally, the con- 



"5 



Conitance West 



.yersation touched on Briscoe, and Annie was interested to 
know that he nmde a favorable impression upon every one 
he met She was just a little sorry that these references 
were so very brief and casual, but she reflected that of 
course that was only natural She was quite surprised 
a few moments later to find that somehow he was being 
spoken of again. 

Annie became quickly more friendly with her companion 
and thought herself very fortunate to have formed so 
pleasant a friendship. In the rather limited circle of Big 
End society Annie had found but few friends really con- 
genial to her ; most of the women were hard worked and 
poorly educated, with neither time nor inclination for any 
thought outside their narrow lives that were bounded by 
the crops and their children and the best way of making 
butter. Altogether Annie had led a specially lonely life 
in a necessarily lonely country. Her father had done his 
best of course, but no companionship of men can make 
up to a girl for the society of her own sex. So Annie was 
only too ready to become intimate with Mrs. West, and 
that lady who could be a fascinating companion when she 
chose, had little difiiculty in winning her confidence. 

Towards supper-time old Mr. Leigh came across the 
garden towards them. He looked nervously at the two 
women as he came, but they were talking in so quiet and 
friendly a fashion that he was at once reassured. "She's 
not spoken yet," he said to himself as he approached them 
and greeted her. It was soon time for Annie to prepare 
the meal and on some excuse he followed her into the 
kitchen and gave her her father's message that he would 
not come in till dusk. Annie listened with obvious discon- 
tent and was a little inclined to rebel. 



U6 



Cofiitance West 



u 



''I don't think it looks very nice/' she said indignantly. 
Why I Mrs. West anay think it is because of her — ^pcr- 
haps^ thslt he is afraid. And I just made her stop when 
she wanted to go earlier because I thought father would 
be in. Can't you get him to come, grandpa? Tell him 
it's very rude." 

The old man shook his head. 
. "I have tried/' he said. "He has an idea Mrs. West 
would prefer him to stay away, I think. You know he 
is very determined if he feels he is right?" 

"Oh, yes ; I know/' said Annie rather crossly. "Pig- 
headed, I call it," she added to herself and«having re- 
lieved her feelings recovered her temper. "And it's 
'absurd; Mrs. West is so nice," she continued aloud. 
You will like her, grandpa." 
Do you think so ? What have you been talking about ?" 
Oh, everything. Do you know she didn't know how 
to make bannock — isn't it funny? And she has been tell- 
ing me all about Stratford-on-Avon and Shakespeare's 
own house — and Westminster Abbey — oh, and grandpa, 
she has been to Monte Carlo and seen the gambling." And 
Annie's eyes grew round with awe and she quite forgot 
the biscuit she was baking till a smell of burning called 
her back to every day life. 

"Nothing else?" asked the old man, still vaguely un- 
easy. 

"Oh, yes; everything. Venice and lots — oh, dear; 
that's burning again." 

Annie became too busy with her supper preparations 
for further speech. And old Mr. Leigh wondered whether 
it were possible that Mrs. West had relented, or if she 



it 

it 

if 



"7 



Constance West 



were keeping her disclosure to the last to employ it with 
greater effect 

"I fear that is more likely/' he murmured *Toor Con- 
stance is very bitter." But none the less a little feeling 
of hope grew within him, "If she could forgive him, they 
might be quite happy together again/' he added with a 
sigh. 

He went down to the stable on the errand he had m- 
vented, and when he returned Annie was telling Mrs. West 
that her father could hot ccxne to supper. It was evident 
she found the explanation difficult from the way in which 
she blushed and stammered, but Mrs. West received it so 
easily and spoke so naturally of the continuous work nec- 
essary on a farm that the awkwardness of the situation 
quickly evaporated and they went into supper together, all 
apparently on the best of terms. But of them all only 
Annie was really at ease, for Mr. Leigh listened to every 
word with apprehension, lest it might herald the dis- 
closure he feared; and beneath Mrs. West's calm and 
smiling countenance boiled a very frenzy of jealous hatred 
as she saw this strange girl sit in the place that was 
her own by right. 

SuK>er had been hastened that Mrs. West might start 
back early and it was soon time for her to go. Mr. Leigh 
went to the stable to fetch her horse and as he had to 
return to his own farm, he brought his own also. In a 
few moments he was ready and he drove Mrs. West's 
buggy to the front of the house^ his own horse tied be- 
hind. With keen anxiety as be drove up he looked to 
see if the last moments had brought the dreaded denuncia- 
tion. But both women were placid and smiling, chatting 
over some trivial point of fancy work that Annie had 



ii8 



Constance West 



been busy with; ahd with deep relief he understood that 
she would not speak — ^that day» at any rate. 

"Perhaps, then," he said to himself ; "she is relenting ; 
perhaps then even yet she may be brought to forgive John 
and make us all happy again." With a partiality for 
Annie he placed Mrs. West's hesitation to her credit, 
thinking that the girl had really won a way into the other 
woman's affection. It seemed to him that everything 
might yet come right and the twenty year burden be 
shifted from their shoulders. His face lighted at the 
idea and there was a quite perceptible change, a new 
briskness^ in his movements as he helped Mrs. West into 
the buggy and then asked if he might accompany her 
part way. "There are two trails," he said; "and it is 
possible you might take the wrong one." 

"Oh, g^ndpa," cried Annie in great surprise; "how 
could she? Why, Mrs. West — " and she was launching 
into long directions when the old man interrupted her. 

"Yes, yes, Annie ;" he said ; "but you forget Mrs. West 
is a stranger. I should like to accompany her that far. 
'Don' can trot behind." 

Without waiting for further permission he climbed into 
the buggy, todc the reins and whip from her hand, and set 
off. 

\"She is really very nice," said Annie to herself as she 
watched them go; "but I wonder why she would not kiss 
me when we said good-bye. She must have seen I 
wanted to and she would only shake hands. I do hope 
she did not think me forward." 

With her cheeks a little red at this idea Annie returned 
to the house and busied herself with her evening duties. 

For some distance old Mr. Leigh drove in silence 



119 



Constance West 



for he did not quite know what to say and Mrs, West 
showed no disposition to speak> sitting in a moody 
silence that contrasted strongly with her former bright 
cheerful behaviour. At last he turned to her and said : 

''We must thank you for not telling Annie." 
j She did not seem to hear, but presently she said: 

''Do you know why I said nothing?" 

"Because, Constance; because, child; I hope — ^I trust 
you have decided to forgive poor John.'' 

'Toor John/' she repeated and in her voice there was 
a bitter sneer. ''No, not that ; but because it was too poor 
a revenge. I want something to cut deeper than that." 

"Revenge," he repeated and he almost laughed. "Con- 
stance, there is nothing you can do. Do you know I have 
twice saved him from suicide — and once the only argu- 
ment that affected him was that life was harder than 
death. I wish you could understand that he has suffered 
and is suffering — a man can suffer more from his own 
thoughts than from any outside circumstances. It is hard 
to live when you have entirely lost everything— even your 
own self-respect." 

"Nevertheless," said Mrs. West; "I will find a way — 
I will find a way." 

"Poor child," he said with a deep sigh. "You are very 
bitter. But you do not understand, for even if you in- 
jured him in any way you would do him a great benefit — 
do him good — ^not harm. You would restore something 
of his self-respect, for he would accept punishment as an 
atonement Connie, he would be glad to suffer, for to 
those who repent nothing is so terrible as impunity/' 

"That is a lie," said Mrs. West 



I20 



Constance West 



"'It is the truth/' said the old man. "Perhaps, some 
day, Constance, you may find diat truth for yourself/' 

There was something in his words that for a moment 
troubled her, but she put the impression by — ^it returned 
to her in after days. 

"In any case/' she said presently ; "I will do him that 
benefit" 

"He did you great wrong— but the greater the wrong, 
the greater the need for forgiveness. Forgive him, Con* 
nie ;" the old man's voice grew solemn in his strong ap- 
peal. "Forgive him that you may be forgiven." 

"I will die unforgiven, then /' she said ; "and so shall 
he." 

"You might be happy together again," he urged, but 
with little hope in his voice for hers was so bitter. 

"We might have been," she agreed. "Now I shall be 
happy in his misery. If I were in hell I should be happy 
if he were by my side." 

As she spoke another meaning that might lie in such 
a wish came to her and struck her dumb. She remem- 
bered how years before he had spoken so to her. "Hell 
would not be hell with you by my side," he had cried to 
her once. Then she had rebuked him for such words, 
and now she had repeated them unawares and with so 
different a meaning. 
, "He loves you still," said the old man sadly. 

'^ou lie," she cried in a sudden flare of rage and lift* 
ing her hand as though she would strike him. She gave 
ah inarticulate sob of rage, and motioned to him to de- 
scend. "You get down/' she said. 

Her aspect was so wild that to soothe her he descended 
and she gathered whip and reins into her trembling hands. 

121 



Comtance West 



She hardly gave him time to unloosen his horse from be- 
hind before she started off. He remained looking after 
her. Suddenly she wheeled her buggy round and drove 
straight back to him. 

''I will tell you what I will do/' she cried at him, shak* 
ing her whip in the air with furious gestures. ''He shall 
see that Annie of his — ^his daughter — ^treated as I was — ' 
married to a worthless drunken husband. And in his 
daughter's sufferings he shall know mine." 

"You are foolish, child/' he answered, almost amused. 
"Your anger is making you absurd. Why, of course, 
Annie will choose her own husband, and he will certainly 
not be a drunkard/' 

"Perhaps it is already settled," observed Mrs. West; 
her fierce manner changing in a moment to one of polite 
interest 

"Oh, no ;" answered the old man simply ; "but I should 
not be surprised if young Briscoe did not ask her — ^he is 
evidently thinking much of her and he is a sober, steady 
young fellow." 

"Oh, young Briscoe ;" repeated Mrs. West and had to 
struggle to restrain her laughter. "Of course — ^in that 
case — ^still she may refuse him." 

"It is not likely," said the old man with a renewed con- 
fidence at the sight of her assumed dismay. "I have no- 
ticed things," he added, nodding to her and quite pleased 
to think how easily he had proved the absurdity of her 
plan. "But, Connie, that was a very wicked thought" 

"How dare you talk of wickedness when you are try- 
ing all the time to make excuses for your son?" cried Mrs. 
West with passionate indignation. She struck her horse 
heavily with her whip and started off at a sharp galley. 



122 



Constance West 



"It is wonderful," she said to herself; "wonderful to 
think they should mention Briscoe. It cannot be merely 
chance. Oh, this will reach him — ^punish him, not im- 
punity in that old man's drivel. Impunity!" She re- 
peated the word with bitter contempt and drove oh mut- 
tering: "Violent — ^threw a glass at a barmaid — di, it 
is wonderful, wonderful." 



123 



CHAPTER XIV 



SWIFTLY the spring grew into summer, and to all 
outward appearance matters remained unchanged. 
Mrs. West and Annie, though they met seldom, 
increased their acquaintance, till the older woman 
ranked as the girl's most intimate friend. John Leigh 
lodced on in sombre silence, meeting Mrs. West occasion- 
ally, but seldom speaking to her, anticipating always the 
revelation that was to destroy his daughter's happiness 
and add yet another misery to those his long past sin had 
already brought forth. In vain his father urged him to 
do something, an3rthing, that might soften the shock of 
the expected blow. He listened, but it seemed to him 
not seemly that he should make any effort to avoid the 
cup presented to his lips. Even when the old man spoke 
of Annie, his determination remained unaltered. 

"It is my punishment," he said; "that always I must 
see the innocent suffer for my fault. What is done, is 
done; but Constance has a right to tell out the truth.'* 
Then he would go to his work and astonish even the 
laborious Canadian fanners by his unceasing toil. 

This period did not prove a very happy time for Dee- 
gan. Continually he endeavoured to ingratiate himself 
with Mrs. West — "courtin' her for all he was worth," as 
he phrased it to himself — ^and she, engrossed with her own 
thoughts, did not conceal how he wearied her. Always 
she was occupied with the idea of her revenge. Although 

124 



Constance West 



most of her time was fully taken up by her duties in the 
hotel, yet, as she moved quietly and steadily about her 
business, her mind brooded continually upon that one 
thing and to Deegan she barely gave a thought, except 
that now and then she found him in her way. To see 
her busy with her ordinary commonplace duties of cock- 
ing and housekeeping no one could have guessed her 
thoughts; or supposed that as she bent over a frying 
pan, turning the cooking meat, she meditated upon the 
destinies of men ; or that, as she watched some bubbling 
stew, she saw framed there visions of a soul's ruin. 

Deegan himself did not understand her in the least, but 
her very aloofness helped to inflame him, her silent figure 
flitting up and down the passages of his house appealed 
to him, so that be spent long hours in day dreams and 
would scheme to meet her at unexpected places. He 
realized, as he never had before, what it would be to have 
a woman's tender care always about him, his mind con* 
ceived pleasant visions of the future, and perhaps the 
increased patronage of the hotel, consequent upon meals 
better served and cooked, did not fail to exercise an in- 
fluence upon him. Yet it was herself he longed for, and 
he watched her small slight figure passing to and fro, 
and racked his brains for new ways to please her, and 
with difiiculty restrained himself from declaring his pas- 
sion. 

Then one day she told him she was going to drive out 
again to Leigh's and when in temper he flung away from 
her she hardly wondered what it was that vexed him. 
He did not interest her much — ^nothing did outside her 
plans — and she had forgotten that she had ever noticed 
anything in his behaviour. 



125 



Constance West 



''What are you goin' for?" he demanded sullenly a 
little later, coming quickly upon her as she sat in her 
buggy just ready to start 

**1 want to hurry things/' she said ; ''It is time to make 
another move. Mr. Briscoe has not been here lately ?" 

"No," answered Deegah; "not for a while. He al- 
ways swears oflF after a spree — ^he's one of that sort" 

She nodded and drove away. He watched her go and 
for the rest of that afternoon was barely civil to those 
who happened to speak to him. 

Mrs. West drove along a trail that now was familiar 
to her. Yet though she ki^ew it she only knew it well 
enough to know that she was going right Her mind 
was in a peculiar state, and as in the hotel she was 
hardly aware of the things that happened outside her own 
sphere, doing her work with a precision that was en* 
tirely mechanical, so on the trail she only noticed the few 
landmarks that were necessary glides. Not for her was 
any sense of the beauty and interest of the untrammelled 
nature through which she passed; the great fields of 
growing wheats ripening in the generous sunshine; the 
air hot, yet fresh and clean ; the universal prairies, stretch- 
ing so far, so boundless, that almost one understood 
eternity. 

About half way she came to a Kttle low-lying stream 
running through a huge ravine, measuring more than a 
mile from bank to bank, where once perhaps had flowed 
some huge river that now had dwindled to this tiny 
brook. By the side of the stream gjew many trees and 
bushes on which the eye, satiated with the bare majesty 
of the prairies, rested pleasantly. In some places the trees 
grew in thick abundance, tangled with an undergrowth 



126 



Constance West 



of bushes, a little further on they would be comparatively 
thin and scanty, and then again would broaden at a 
sheltered bend into the beginnings of a forest — ^until the 
merciless prairie fire should come and bring destruction. 

It was a scene eminently qualified to make a spectator 
realize his own insignificance before the huge outspread 
of nature; all the more impressive for its quietude and 
monotony, seeming to suggest that this could never be 
troubled by any act of man. For the far-stretching 
prairies are not like the great mountains, tormented by 
avalanche and landslip; not like the flowing rivers that 
for ever pass on and onwards; not like the seas fretted 
and foaming beneath each chance wind of Heaven. But 
like the eternal stars themselves they always remain, for 
ever vast and changeless. 

Into the ravine, the trail led by a steep and rough 
passage, worn each spring by the melting snow that for 
a time restored the little brook to some faint remembrance 
of its former state. Mrs. West drove down slowly and 
carefully, and then followed the trail across the ancient 
river bed, her mind so occupied with its own sombre 
brooding that it seemed as though no outward impres- 
sion could reach her. She passed the stream by a shal- 
low ford — ^there was no bridge as yet — and then her 
glance lighted on a pony, tied to a tree near by. She 
looked at it vaguely — ^then recognized it as one she had 
seen Annie riding. Instantly she reined in her own 
^ horse and sat thinking, wrinkling her brows as she gazed 
steadily at the pony. 

After a little she got down and entered the brushwood 
that bordered the trail as it ran from the stream up the 
side of the ravine to the level prairie above. .Walking 



127 



Canitance WeH 



with extreme care, both to avoid making any noise and 
to avoid leaving footsteps, she at last came to a spot 
where she had a view of the banks of the stream. At a 
little distance she saw Annie sitting oh a piece of open 
land that lay a little back from the water beneath a steep 
overhanging rock. She was busily occupied sketching 
the trees on the opposite bank, and evidently was quite 
unaware that she was over-looked. 

For some little time Mrs. West lay there, her finger 
tapping on the ground, a nervous trick of hers that gen- 
erally indicated she was thinking deeply. Presently, still 
with the same care, she worked her way round to the 
overhanging rock beneath which was Annie. On the 
top of this grew some trees and a few bushes so that she 
was well sheltered from observation. She crawled to the 
brink on her hands and knees, going by inches that she 
might give no sign of her presence. She peered over 
and saw, with a strange feeling that was almost awe, 
that Annie had just moved and now sat directly beneath. 
Her hat was off and she was evidently resting in the shade 
of the rock. In her hand she held the open sketch-book, 
apparently comparing her work with the scene opposite. 

Long and intently Mrs. West watched the unsuspicious 
girl, who sat quietly^ humming a dance tune to herself 
and occasionally adding another touch to her sketch. 
Qose to Mrs. West's right hand lay three or four stones, 
each about twice the size of her closed fist, and to her 
their presence there seemed almost providential. 

"It is as though it were meant," she said, and then 
again ; "I seem but an instrument with everything placed 
ready to my hand." 

Her glance went to the stones and then to the uncon- 

# 

128 



Constance West 



5C10US girl beneath, her eye measuring the distance. Then 
as though her mind were suddenly made up, she took 
one of the stones, and with careful deliberation, dropped 
it so that it fell as aimed« right on Annie's leg between 
the knee and the foot 

With pale face Mrs, West drew back, suppressing by 
an effort the trembling of her limbs and an instinctive 
desire to run; and only by a greater effort checking the 
answering cry that rose to her lips as she heard Annie's 
quick scream of pain and surprise. Slowly and carefully 
Mrs. West made her way through the trees back to the 
trail^ and once she started as a second cry of pain reached 
her, and once she stopped short to listen to another 
sound, dim in the distance but yet distinct in the calm 
of the stunmer's day. For a little she did not know what 
it was ; then recognized it as a woman sobbing. 

"Oh, well !" she said shrugging her shoulders, "I have 
cried, too-— and a stone on your foot is not as bad as a 
blow on your face — she won't be blinded or disfigured for 
Kfe." And she cried out aloud; "Justice; that is all I 
desire and it is my right Justice— eye for eye and tooth 
for tooth." 

Slowly, still with that restraint upon herself for fear 
she should break into a run, Mrs. West walked back to 
where her buggy stood and looked thoughtfully at Annie's 
pony. It was secured rather carelessly, the bridle Just 
tossed over a handy branch. Mrs. West seated herself 
in her buggy, backed the horse a few steps away, and 
then brought her whip down upon the pony's back. With 
a whinny of surprise and terror it reared and plunged, 
and Mrs. West lashed it again and then again till with a 
snort it broke loose and galloped off. She watched 



129 , 



Constance West 



it a little for fear it might return, but seeing that it gal- 
loped straight cm she drove away convinced that even if 
Annie could manage to gain the trail she would not be 
able to catch her pony. 

From the ford where this had happened to the Leigh 
farm was nearly seven miles, and though up and down 
the stream there were several homesteads, none was 
near to this particular spot, as the ground was rough and 
very stony. In the winter time people often came that 
way for wood, since a good load could easily be obtained, 
but in the summer few passed except casual travellers 
from one farm to another. At present, there was even 
less likelihood than usual of any one passing, as most peor 
pie were busy with the haying which had just begun. So 
there was little chance of any assistance reaching Annie, 
and the straying of her pony would effectually prevent 
her from helping herself, even if her hurt did not itself 
prevent her from moving. Mrs. West reflected that Annie 
would probably be very frightened, might not improbably 
fear being left there to starve. She pictured to herself 
the lonely girl waiting in fear and pain, listening eagerly 
for some sound of approaching help. 

"But I won't hurry for that," said Mrs. West and 
she went perhaps even more slowly than she had in- 
tended. 

At last, however, she drove up to Briscoe's shack. The 
barking of dogs announced her and in a few moments 
Briscoe himself came out from behind an outbuilding 
where he had been busy. He welcomed her with a touch 
of embarrassment in his manner, for though they had met 
several times since his drinking bout, the shame of it was 
still raw in his memory. 



130 



Constance West 



to 



''I want you to harness up and go to the ford across 
the creek/' she said» slowly, flicking at the flies with her 
whip. 

To the creek," he repeated, looking puzzled. 

Tes/' she said. "I saw Miss Leigh's pony just now ; 
it was loose, but had its saddle on, and as I passed the 
creek I noticed a place that looked as though a horse had 
been tied and broken away. If it has strayed from her, 
she will not like walking back all that way in this heat." 

"Goodness no!" exclaimed Briscoe. "I'll go at once. 
Thanks awfully — you don't think she's hurt at all," he 
added, agitatedly. 

Mrs. West looked straight at him. 

"It is possible," she said. "She might have fallen— or 
something." 

"I'll go at once," he repeated, and started at a run for 
his stable. 

In a moment or two he came out leading a horse and 
began hurriedly to harness it to his buggy. Mrs. West 
drove over and sat watching him in silence. Soon he 
was ready, and without even stopping to put on his coat 
he sprang to the seat. 

"Do you love her ?" said Mrs. West suddenly, not look- 
ing at him but intently before her as though she saw 
something far out on the open prairie. 

He stared at her, too surprised at first even to answer, 
and then flushed deeply. 

"Do you love her?" she repeated. "Come, Mr. Bris- 
coe," she continued, looking at him with the smile she 
could always summon at desire ; "we are old friends, are 
we not? You trusted me before — trust me now — I 
should wish to help you if I might 



if 



I3X 



Cofutance West 



Briscoe looked at her gratefully, but still he was em- 
barrassed. He found it difficult to speak and his blush 
became more vivid 

"You know," she said, speaking very gently, "I have 
been in love, too. That was years ago, but still perhaps 
I might help you yet'' 

"Yes, I do," exclaimed Briscoe suddenly, the words 
coming with a rush. "But I have no right— ^ou know— 
Oh, why am I such a beast?" 

"You must not be morbid," said Mrs. West gravely ; 
"none of us are perfect Believe me, a girl loves a man 
all the better if she sees he needs her help in any way." 

"But she isn't an ordinary girl," said Briscoe ; "she's— 
oh, she's so different And you know what I am." But 
his voice was already more hopeful — ^brighter — as though 
her words had encouraged him. 

"I know you are a very nice lad," said Mrs. West, smil- 
ing at him. "A good, honest lad. Now you take my 
advice and speak — ^then you will have a motive for keeping 
straight That's all you need. And you will have saved 
her a long, tiring walk, so that she will be grateful to you 
and glad to see you. Tell her you love her." 

"I must tell her — ^the truth about myself first," he said 
with a sigh. He looked up at Mrs. West as he spoke and 
saw that she was trying to conceal a rather contemptuous 
smile at this idea. Against argument he would probably 
have been proof, for in examining his positicHi he would 
have seen its strength. But against this subtle smile of 
ridicule he was helpless and he flushed hotly as he said : 
"Don't you fliink I ought?" 

"Not unless you are prepared to be hopelessly misun- 
derstood," she answered. ^'Of course, you must tell her 



132 



Constance West 



later when she is more used to you and can look at the 
thing in an unprejudiced light; but now it would be a 
great shock and she might take a morbid view." 

"I could put off telling her, then ?" he said, a little hesi- 
tatingly, but obviously relieved at the idea. 

"Certainly, most scrupulous of men," answered Mrs. 
West lightly. "And dcm't tell her I sent you or that you 
have seen me — I have a particular reason for wishing her 
to remain in ignorance of that. You will promise me?" 

"Of course, if you wish it" 

"Thank you so much. Now you had better go." 

He gathered up his reins and as he started she called 
to him. 

"Come into town to-morrow and tell me how you 
fared." 

He waved his whip to show he heard, and he drove as 
fast as his horse could gallop. 

Mrs. West watched him for a few moments and then 
returned to town by an alternative trail. She said to 
herself that she was very well pleased and at intervals 
she repeated : "Justice — I have a right to justice." She 
told Deegan when she reached the hotel that everything 
was progressing well and that he would soon see the re- 
sults. 

But it troubled and annoyed her greatly that that night 
she dreamed she heard a woman sobbing and could in 
no way escape the sound* 



133 



CHAPTER XV 



ON the following afternoon Mrs. West gave up 
her accustomed walk and sat quietly sewing 
in a comer of the hotel verandah till at last she 
saw young Briscoe drive rapidly up to the 
stables. He took off his hat to her as he passed, and it 
only needed one glance at his smiling face, and at the 
new regard for appearance shown in his attire, for her to 
understand that the meeting of the day before had turned 
out as she desired. 

"Young fellow looks mighty spry — wonder what's on," 
observed Deegan, who had been hanging about in her 
vicinity all afternoon. 

There's no one at the stable," suggested Mrs. West. 
Hadn't you beter go?" 

'Spose so," said Deegan, rather sulkily, and went off. 
In a few minutes Briscoe joined Mrs. West, who wel- 
comed him with a smile and cleared her work from a seat 
near so that he might sit down. 

''It's all right," he said, and as he spoke he gave a little 
delighted laugh as though the wonder of the thing were 
still fresh to him. 

"I congratulate you," said Mrs. West "Heartily," she 
added. 

He sat for a little in silence swinging his hat between 
his hands, a pleasant smile on his handsome face. 

It seems too good t6 be true," he said shyly, turning 



u 



«1 



134 



Constance West 



to her with an air diffident and yet assured of sympathy* 
"But I'm going to try to deserve my luck." 

"Of course/' answered Mrs. West; but something in 
her manner served to check him a little — though only a 
very little. 

"Do you know, I found Annie in rather a bad fix?** 
he continued. "It was providential you saw her pony 
straying — simply providential. I shall always be grate* 
ful to you." 

"Why? What was wrong?" asked Mrs. West with 
admirably feigned surprise. 

"She was hurt," he explained, and went on to tell how 
a stone had fallen and bruised her so that she could not 
walk. She had been intensely relieved to see him, for 
she was becoming very frightened, and he had been in- 
tensely sorry for her plight; nor was it difficult to see 
through his narrative how the accident had drawn them 
together so that her gratitude and his sympathy had 
quickly brought about declaration and acceptance. 

"But it was funny about that stone falling,'* said 
Briscoe as he finished. "She might have lain there till she 
— ^starved," 

It was fortunate it was no worse," agreed Mrs. West 

I suppose something just happened to disturb it— one 
might go a thousand times again and such a thing never 
luppen* You must tell her how sorry I am, and that I 
will drive over to see her as soon as possible. Is she able 
to walk?" 

"Oh, no; she is lying on the sofa this morning." 

"And what does Mr. Leigh say to it all ?" 
He seemed awfully surprised — just as though he had 






«1 



J3S 



m 



Constance West 



never thought of such a thing. I am to write home this 
maiL** 

"And when will you be married ?^ 

"Oh, soon after harvest, I thought— however, that can 
be settled later." 

"It is all very nice, isn't it?" said Mrs. West, and sud- 
denly she shot at him a quick upward glance, "You are 
happy ?" she queried softly. 

He did not answer her question directly, but his face 
was eloquent. 

"It's all so wonderful," he breathed presently and then 
carried a little beyond himself by the need of sympathy, 
the wish to outpour his feelings, he spoke of his wonder* 
ful good forttme and his plans for the future, while Mrs. 
West sat and listened and drc^ped little sympathetic 
words. Two or three times he urged that the marriage 
ought to take place before the hard weather set in, so that 
they could go home to England for the honeymoon and be 
out again in good time for the work in the spring. 

'You mean to settle down, then, here?" said Mrs. West 
'Oh, yes ; I think so. Annie says she must not go far 
from her people, and it really is a beautiful country, you 
know." And Briscoe looked at the dusty track before 
them, and the shabby little frame houses, and the broken 
sidewalk ; and in his eyes they were all transfigured, seem- 
ing beautiful 

"But I must go and do my shopping," he continued. 
"There are several things I must get*' 

"One moment," she said, and leaving him returned 
with a tray bearing two glasses. "Before you go,'* she 
said, "we will drink your health and hers together, shall 
weT 






136 



-t^ 



Constance West 



Briscoe shook his head. His manner was a little em- 
barrassed but his voice was firm. 

"I must give that up now," he said ; "it wouldn't do/* 

"Oh, nonsense," she answered. "It's only a drop to 
drink good-luck — ^you don't get engaged every day." 

She picked up one glass and pushed the other to him 
with such a natural movement, so simple an air of assured 
expectation, that he nearly took it She drank to Annie's 
health, and he stood awkwardly, looking as uncomfortable 
as he felt. 

"I must give it up," he said ; "entirely." 

She glanced at him and saw his lips pressed together 
with an air of resolution. She recognized that it would 
be wiser to give way, 

"Perhaps you are right," she said. "In any case, 
I heartily congratulate you — and you will tell her I 
will be out soon to congratulate her also, won't you? I 
wonder — " 

"Wonder what?" asked Briscoe. 

"How it will end?" she said slowly. "If you will be 
happy?" And as she spoke a sudden light flashed across 
faer countenance ; flashed and passed, and left her dreamy 
and abstracted as before. 

Briscoe was rather amused. 

"Yes, rather," he said ; "you wait and see ; but I must 
be off now." 

He had scarcely gone when Deegan, who had been 
hanging about at a distance, came up to her. 

"Well?" he said. 

"He is to marry Annie Leigh," she answered; "after 
liarvest." 

"Quick work," he observed. "My I but he do look 



137 



Constance West 



spry ; gdt a kind of kick*up to his walk like a horse after 
an extra feed of oats/' 

"He is very happy/' 

"I suppose/' agreed Deegan. "Reckon it does make 
you feel awful good and happy like**' 

He began to be restless^ to cross and uncross his legs 
and to fidget about Two or three times it seemed as 
though he were about to speak, but Mrs. West, looking 
straight in front of her, took no notice of him. 

"Awful happy/' he said presenUy. "Eh?" 

"I daresay/' she answered indifferently. 

They relapsed into silence again, and saw Briscoe cross 
to a store opposite. He walked briskly and smiled to 
himself so that his whole appearance was eloquent of his 
content. Deegan watched him enviously. 

"It must be real good to feel like that/' he said. "I 
wish I was him. At least/' he added hurriedly, fearful 
of being misunderstood, "I mean I wish I was fixed like 
him, only not to the same girl. She ain't much grit or 
get-up about her. I seen her light out quicker'n most 
anything last fall, just for a heifer that was a bit frisky." 

"I am afraid of cows, too," said Mrs. West 

This statement amused Deegah very much. 

"About the only things you are scared of, then," he 
said and presently went away still chuckling over the idea. 

Later on he manoeuvred so as to meet her in the hotel 
yard. It was dark and there was no one else about She 
would have passed him and gone inside without speak- 
ing if he had not placed himself directly in her path. 

"Mrs. West, ma'am," he said nervously ; "I wanted just 
to speak a few words to you if I might." 

138 



Constance West 



"What is it, then ?" she asked. 

"It's that there Briscoe/' he said; "he seemed so — so 
happy — ^just simply bilin' — " 

"I am glad," she said quickly. "Why should he not 
be happy while he can?" 

"Oh, I ain't got no kick comin* against that." Deegan 
lapsed into silence and Mrs. West moved as though td 
go in. "Don't go," he said quickly* 

"What is it, then?" 

"You won't get mad?" 

"Mad. No. What is it?'* 

"I only want you to marry me. Honest, Mrs. West, 
ma'am, I don't know how to say it slick like, and I 
know you're a real lady, and I know I ain't more'n 
dirt compared with you, what reads poetry and is 
cultured from the word 'go.' But — I feel it right 
here." 

He touched his chest and leaned forward towards her 
as though expecting an answer and when she neither 
moved nor spoke, he began again. 

"I'm mighty sorry I asked you that other time, ma^am ; 
I feel real bad about it, for I didn't feel then like I do 
now. See here, Mrs. West, I'd be proud to work for you, 
and though I ain't no great shakes to look at, you might 
hunt all through Canada and the [7-nited States and you 
wouldn't find a man prouder to work for you. It ain't a 
bad business. I can work and I can fight and you'd only 
have to lift your finger for me to do whatever you wanted 
— workin' or fightin'. And oh 1 it's just this way ; I love 
you and I want you.'* He paused and hesitated and then 
repeated in a slow, stammering voice that generally was 
loud and quick enough : "I'd love and honour you all my 

139 



* 



Cofutance Wat 



J 



life. Mrs. West, ma'am, you don't know how real I mean 
it. I do just mean it'' 

He stopped and wiped his brow in nervous agitation. 
She did not answer. Her mind was very far away. She 
remembered how another man had told her of his love, 
and her heart grew soft and tender at the memory. She 
felt very sorry for Deegan, for something in his rough 
pleading, perhaps the half-conscious hopelessness of it, 
touched her strongly. She thought, too, of Briscoe's 
young face and of how her plans would quench the hap- 
piness that had shone there all day. 

''But it's all lies," she said to herself, and thought of 
how those other promises had been fulfilled. "It's all 
lies — ^they would be like him — ^like — ^John — and forget in 
a month and swear the same to another woman. None 
of them mean it." 

Her thoughts went to her husband and his second act 
of marriage that was a crime before the law and so 
much — ^so much more to her. She remembered that Annie 
was his daughter but no child of hers. The tenderness 
that had touched her shrivelled away at the thought, and 
she felt her heart freeze again. She turned to Deegan with 
mockery and cold malice in her mind. She watched him 
with scorn as he stood before her, large in the dim even- 
ing light, moving nervously and fumbling with his hands. 

"Cameron wants help," she said in clear, hard tones. 
"If you trouble me just once more I'll go there.'* 

He sighed heavily. 

"Is that an ox ?" she asked with angry contempt 

"No, ma'am ; it's me," he answered simply. "I couldn't 
help askin', though I knew it was no good. But I'll never 
say another word." 

140 



Constance West 



4r 



If you do, I go/' she said. 

'Yes, ma'am," he answered humbly. "You see, it's this 
way. I had to ask — I'd rather have you jumpin' on me 
with both feet like now than know there was a man waitin' 
round the comer to give me a team of horses." 

He turned away into the darkness and he did not appear 
in the saloon all that evening. 



141 



CHAPTER XVL 



THE harvest time came, the busy time when the 
long days are too short for all that needs to be 
done, the time when no man has opportunity for 
anything but work alone. Twice Briscoe and 
once John Leigh came into town for small necessities, but 
Mrs. West saw neither of them, since both hurried bade 
to their work without a moment's delay. She herself 
drove over two or three times to sit by Annie who was 
still unable to walk and to congratulate her upon her 
engagement. These visits served greatly to increase 
their friendship, for Annie had no other woman in whom 
to confide and Mrs. West exerted all her powers to please 
and fascinate the girl. 

With Annie she was always lively and even merry ; but 
in the hotel her conduct was curiously different. There 
she remained silent and abstracted, quite ignoring Decgan 
and indeed every one else, and hardly ever speaking. Yet 
Deegan watching her, so absorbed to all appearance in 
the details of her daily work, felt his passion grow daily. 
He felt, without quite knowing why, that she was troubled, 
and he longed to comfort her. A new vein of imagina- 
tion awoke in him. This silent, white-faced woman, with 
the abstracted manner and the quick, bird-like looks to 
either hand, roused in him new emotions, dim and strange. 
Sometimes he dreamed that he had taken her in his arms 
to comfort her ; and he would sit silently for hours at a 



142 



Constance West 



time planning fresh appeals that he knew he would never 
dare to urge. Meanwhile he waited on her each moment 
of the day, and it troubled him little that she seemed 
barely aware of him and would more often ignore his 
offers of assistance than accept them. If she but threw 
him a casual word; he was well satisfied. 

A little later when the harvest was quite finished, the 
wheat all stacked and the pressure of the work relaxed 
so that the farmers found again a little time to spare, 
Deegan came to her one day as she was starting for hef 
usual afternoon walk. 

"Do you know there was a meetin' in Queen county 
last night?" he asked. "A strong out and out prohitri- 
tionist mectin' ? John Leigh was there." 

"Was there?" she said slowly. "Well?" 

"Oh, nothin' much," answered Deegan. "He spoke, I 
heard ; wants to cut licences. If they take mine, there'll 
be trouble." But this time Deegan repeated the threat 
without conviction, as though by little more than force of 
habit. "Art. Briscoe backed him up, too." 

"Briscoe?" said Mrs. West, starting. "Briscoe?" she 
repeated. 

"Yes, he's been going strong on that line ever since, we 
made him full that night. Lord I he got a jag all right." 
Deegan smiled at what was to him the recollection of an 
excellent joke. "Now he's reckonin' to marry that Leigh 
girl, I s'pose he's bound to be careful," he continued. 

"Ah, yes," said Mrs. West. "Of course, he will have 
to be careful. Very careful," she added, with emphasis. 

"I reckon they'll make John Leigh Inspector of Li- 
cences." 



"No, they won't ; you need not fear that" 

143 



Constance West 



''Oh^ I don't know I care such an awful lot I used to 
think a whole heap of the hotel, but I feel these days as 
though I didn't put much stock in anything — except you/' 

He looked up as he spoke, half frightened himself at his 
last two words, for he had continually before him the fear 
that she would carry out her threat of going to Cameron's. 
However, Mrs. West had already started on her walk, 
without waiting for the conclusion of his speech, and so 
had not heard him. 

He stared after her for a little and then re-entered the 
t>ar and stood there moodily watching Jim Cross and an- 
other man who were gossipping together. Deegan poured 
cut for himself a glass of whisky and then remained with 
it in his hand for so long a time that Jim asked him what 
was wrong. 

"Seems as I've lost all taste for liquor," he said in 
answer. "I guess it ain't strong enough." 

"Not strong enough ?" cried Jim. He came across and 
looked at the glass Deegan was holding. "Why," he cried, 
"that's stiff enough for all sakes — ^there ain't much water 
in that" 

"There ain't none," said Deegan and handed it to him. 
**You drink it I'm that hot inside whisky don't seem 
to fizz on me a little bit." 

He went outside, muttering to himself and impatiently 
walking up and down. He was still wandering restlessly 
from the verandah to the saloon and back again, wheti 
Mrs. 5Vest returned and came straight up to him. 

"I've , been thinking," she said. "Briscoe must not go 
too long* .without drink or he may get beyond us. It is a 
long tiin^ since his last outbreak and they say he is to 

\ 144 

\ 

\ 
\ 



Constance West 



marry after freeze-up. So when he is in town again, let 
me know/' 

"Yes, ma'am,*' said Deegan, and added to himself as 
he watched her go: "She's awful down on that boy — I 
wonder why? But after all, a bit of a spree never did 
any one any harm." 

Accordingly Deegan kept a sharp look out and when 
in a day or two he heard that Briscoe was in town again 
he at once hurried to Mrs. West. 

"He does not come here to dinner now, does he ?" said 
Mrs. West thoughtfully when she heard this. 

"Maybe he's scared — ^thinks we might make him drunk 
again," suggested Deegan scornfully. 

"Possibly," agreed Mrs. West, thinking that the sneer- 
ing suggestion was probably very near the truth. "Now 
go into the saloon and bet Cross or one of those men ten 
dollars that Briscoe will not dare enter your saloon now 
he's to be married." 

"Bet what ?" said Deegan, staring. "Besides, likely he 
will, and I thought that's what you was after." 

"Oh," she cried impatiently ; "how stupid you are. Go 
and do as you are told." 

He went to fulfil her bidding, though still rather puz- 
zled, and she hastily tidied herself and went out. In a few 
moments she saw Briscoe and managed so as to meet him 
face to face. She held out her hand with an expression 
of surprise and he could not help stopping to speak to 
her. She soon managed to have him talking freely, for 
she asked him many questions. She drew him on skilfully 
and mentioned with gentle reproach that he seemed to 
have quite forgotten her; and then she inquired why he 
had not been to the hotel for his dinner. 



145 



Constance West 



"Oh, I had something before I started/' he answered. 

"I thought you would come in to tell me how Annie 
was and how things were progressing," repeated Mrs. 
West, and returned to the point once or twice till he felt 
quite uncomfortable and convinced that he had behaved 
rather badly — ^more especially as he would not admit even 
to himself the secret mistrust which had kept him away 
from the vicinity of the saloon. She had so much to say 
and so many questions to ask that it seemed only natural 
they should turn in as they reached the hotel and sit down 
in the verandah. By now he was interested in their talk 
and she had little difficulty in drawing him on to speak 
more intimately of his affairs. She knew there is no 
quicker or easier way to win a lover's confidence than to 
speak well of the beloved one, and so she praised Annie 
till Briscoe wondered how he could ever have felt even 
vague suspicions of so charming a woman. He remem- 
bered that he had determined to avoid both her and the 
hotel and he felt keenly that this had been weak and silly. 
He blushed slightly and was glad Mrs. West could not 
possibly have guessed his mistrust of her. The remem- 
brance of this feeling embarrassed him when she again 
smilingly reproached him for his neglect 

"You see, there was the harvest," he explained. "1 was 
helping Mr. Leigh, and there was my own little bit of 
crop to cut, too." 

"It was only that you were busy^ then?** said Mrs* 
West. 

"It was such an awful rushi'' he replied^ evading Ae 
direct point to avoid a lie. 

"I am very glad," she said, looking full at him. '*Yoa 
See — I was afraid I had vexed you." 



146 



Comtance West 



id 



'Vexed me ? Oh, I say, Mrs. West," he cried boyishly. 

'Of course, if you were too busy it's different, and Fm 
very glad. But I was afraid I had vexed you by giving 
you that whisky — and I was so sorry. You know we old 
people take an interest in young folk and like to be on 
good terms with them — it seems as though we were living 
our lives over again and that would be so nice, wouldn't 
it? But I am very glad you were not vexed about that 
whisky." 

"Oh, not at all," he answered confusedly— "though, of 
course, I must be more careful now. I am going to turn 
strict teetotaler," he added with a desire to confide in her 
that she might see he was not annoyed in any way. 

''You are very wise," she said smilingly, and added with 
an appearance of carelessness : "That is Annie's advice^ 
I suppose ; or one might say her orders ?" 

"Oh, no," he answered, a little surprised at the infer- 
ence, and a little annoyed at it, toa "I thought it right, 
that's alL I haven't even told her." 

"Then I shouldn't if I were you. You see, t am older 
tnA understand, but she might think it — ^well, weakness^ 
perhaps." 

"Oh, I don't think so," he said hastily, flushing it little. 

"Perhaps not, perhaps not. Only she has such an in* 
tense hatred of anything like weakness. 

"I know that," he admitted. 

"You see, she might call it cowardice," continued Mrs. 
West ; "not understanding that it is really prudence.** 

Briscoe looked a little vexed and moved impatiently. 

"It isn*t that," he said after a pause; "only I don*t 
ciioose, that's all." 

^'Exactly what I said," she cried. "Decgan said you 

147 



Constance West 



were scared so badly you would never dare enter a saloon 
again. He told Jim Cross that" 

"Did her 

"I told them it was foolish to talk in that way. Of 
course, if you have decided to keep away, it is very wise ; 
but I know you will act as you think best'' 

"Of course I shall. What did they say to that?** 

"Oh, Deegan said — ^these Americanisms are so odd, 1 
think — he said he thought just the same, only different 
He bet Cross ten dollars you would never dare to take a 
drink of whisky again in his saloon for the rest of your 
life." 

"By George, he shall lose that, anyhow," cried Briscoe, 
and sprang to his feet 

"That would be rather fun," said Mrs. West, laughing; 
and Briscoe laughed back as he walked quickly into the 
saloon. As he entered her laughter ceased, and an ex- 
pression of deepest scorn succeeded it "The resoluticwi 
of a man," she said with utter contempt 

She turned away and going into the now empty 
dining room she hastily took a bottle of whisky and filled 
two or three glasses from it. Then she waited, watching 
the door of the saloon. In a little it opened and Briscoe 
came out with flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes. Mrs. 
West greeted him with a laugh and he laughed, too. 

"Deegan was a little surprised, I expect," she observed. 

"He won't like parting with that ten dollars," he an- 
swered triumphantly. 

"And after all," she continued^ "you are none the 
worse." 

"Not a scrap," he asserted. 

He stood near watching her as she busied herself by 



148 



Constance West 



the tray that held the glasses she had recently filled. The 
strong odour of the whisky rose up, and his nostrils 
opened to receive it. He did not seem to pay it any at- 
tention, but she noted how his eyes glittered and how his 
fingers twitched convulsively. 

"Oh, dear," she said presently in a vexed tone and 
feeling in her pocket; "I've mislaid my keys. How 
stupid. I had them this afternoon, too, while I was talk* 
ing to Mr. Deegan. I wonder— do you mind asking if 
he has seen them?" 

He hesitated. 

"In there ?" he asked. 

"How should I know?" she retorted crossly. "Oh, I 
forgot, you were afraid — I'll go myself." 

"No, no, ni go," he said. 

He entered the saloon, but he did not return. Inside 
there began to be the sounds of merriment, of laughing 
and singing. Outside Mrs. West waited, smiling to 
herself. 






149 



CHAPTER XVII 




'OU ain't lookin' well/' said Deegan with con- 
cern the following afternoon, as he dianced to 
meet Mrs. West in the passage near the saloon. 
"I did not sleep well," she answered briefly. 

"Got a bit of a headache myself," observed Deegan 
sympathetically. ''Csesarl but it was a terror of a time 
last night, and I daresay we made row enough.'' 

"How is Briscoe ?" she asked. 

"Don't know," he answered with a grin. "Say, you 
have socked it to him all right. Here he comes," he 
added, and glancing up Mrs. West saw Briscoe slowly 
descending the stairway. 

It was with curious feelings that the two watdied the 
approach of their victim. He came very slowly, gripping 
the bannister rail hard as though to steady himself, and 
in his dead-white countenance his fiery eyes burnt as in a 
fever. At the foot of the stairs he stopped and looked 
at them. He did not speak and before his steady, half- 
unconscious gaze the two became embarrassed and their 
own eyes dropped. 

"Well ?" said Deegan presently, awkwardly enough, the 
more so for his attempt to seem at ease. "How goes it? 
Feel bad?" 

"Not well,** answered Briscoe. 

"I'll go and mix you up something,^' said Deegan, and 
turned away into the saloon, unreasonably glad to escape. 

150 



Constance West 



*'I wonder," said Briscoe, turning to Mrs. West as the 
saloon-keeper disappeared, "I wonder why you have 
ruined me. I never injured you, did I?" 

"Ruined?" she answered, trying to laugh. "Oh, non- 
sense ; you will be all right after your marriage." 

"There will be no marriage," he replied. "You have 
shown me I am not fit." 

"Oh," she said smoothly, "you feel ill and now you take 
a morbid — ^an extreme view. You know — ^at least — after 
—^11—" 

Her fluent words died away as he stood looking at her ; 
it seemed to her that his burning, intent eyes saw into her 
and all her schemes ; through her and past her with im- 
measurable scorn, understanding her, without bitterness, 
but with absolute contempt. She wished to speak again ; to 
argue, to cajole, to coax; but the steady^ unimpassioned 
gaze of those direct eyes that shone so bright against the 
deathly pallor of his face, prevented her. Obstinately she 
determined to continue facing him ; she reminded herself 
of the wrongs she had suffered. 

In a few moments Deegan came hurrying back, in his 
hands a tray bearing some hot coffee and a piece of apple 
pie. 

"Some folk," he observed proudly, "would have brought 
you whisky, but I know just how you're feeling. The 
coffee's near boilin'." 

Briscoe took the trayi looked cbsely at it and then put 
it down. 

^'There's brandy in the coffee,** he said, but without 
emotion, with no change in his white face nor any attempt 
to remove his feverish eyes from Mrs. West 

Deegan blushed like a school-boy. 



151 



Constance West 



"Only a taste," he urged, "the merest hint You just 
taste it It makes me feel real mean to see you look like 
that." 

There was genuine kindness in his voice, and it seemed 
to touch Briscoe. He raised the coffee to his lips and 
then set it down with a strong shudder. 

"I am afraid I can't," he said. "It wouldn't matter — 
now. But I am afraid I can't" 

He walked on and Deegan followed him uneasily. Mrs. 
West stood where they left her, reciting to herself the 
tale of her wrongs. Suddenly Briscoe came back. She 
looked at him defiantly, for suddenly she was aware she 
had entirely lost that feeling of contempt she had once 
held towards him. Now she regarded him almost with 
fear. 

"I wonder just why you wished to ruin me," he said. 

She did not answer him. By an effort she still returned 
his gaze unflinchingly. Denial did not occur to her. 

"Do you think it was worth while?" he asked, and 
without waiting for reply turned and went away again. 

The door of Deegan's little office stood open near by, 
and she went in and sat down, her head resting oh her 
hands. She tried again to fix her thoughts upon the 
memory of her wrongs, but now this seemed more diffi- 
cult Instead, in spite of all her efforts, she remembered 
Briscoe's pale, despairing face and his last question: 
"Was it worth while?" Also she seemed to hear quite 
plainly a woman sobbing in the distance, as she had heard 
it all that sleepless night 

"Is it worth while?" she said aloud after a long interval, 
and Deegan answered from the door, where he had been 
standing for some moments. 

152 



Constance West 



*lt all depends, ma'am." 

"On what?" she asked. ^ 

"On what you want. See now, Mrs. West, ma'am, 
I know you're in trouble. You just tell me — ^go shares, 
so to say. I don't know what it is you're after, but I — " 
He gave a little gasp, as though something rose in his 
throat. "Oh," he cried, "I love you ; me that's tough and 
battered and gettin' old and once a tramp. But I love you 
all the same. Won't you— couldn't you — ^if you tried ?" 

She looked at him, a little surprised but gently. She 
could never realize that he was in earnest. All her mind 
was occupied with brooding thoughts of her revenge and 
every other emotion seemed to her unreal. 

"No, no," she said; "it's — it's quite impossible, out of 
the question altogether." 

He looked straight at hen 

"It ain't," he said. "I don't know myself how awful 
bad I want you, but it'll have to be sometime." 

"Put the idea aside," she answered sadly. "Believe me, 
I am very sorry ; but forget all about it." 

"Not me," he answered. He meditated for a time and 
then continued gloomily. "I wish I could. I've got along 
without women folk all these years and I don't want to be- 
gin now. But it's stronger nor me^ a whole heap stronger, 
and I'm bound to have you." He paused again and theln 
proceeded in the same half-puzzled tone and laying one 
large hand upon his chest "There's something here," he 
caid, "that means to have you or burst right up. So you 
know." 

Mrs. West listened to him 'but hardly understood, nor 
dreamed with what primitive force this uncouth West- 
erner loved her. Even to Deegan himself the intensity 



153 



Constance West 



of his passion was half disguised by the amazement where- 
with he regarded it. It seemed to him a thing apart, a 
separate growth, whereat he wondered and not under- 
standing it felt that neither could it be controlled. 

"You must put away such thoughts/' she said, and 
never dreamed how she encouraged him by her more gen- 
tle manner and her apparent forgetfulness of her threat 
to leave him if he spoke again. 

He went away exultant; and even the slight hold he 
had upon his passion slackened by reason of the hope he 
thought he saw. 

Later on he heard news^ and returned to Mrs. West, 
who still sat where he had left her, aknost in the same 
attitude. 

"Mrs. West, ma'am," he said, "Joe Peters, the ticket 
agent, has been up. He says Briscoe's bought a ticket 
west — to Vancouver." 

'What ?" she cried, and sprang to her feet 

'And the parson met him a while back/' continued 
Deegan, "and asked him somethin' about the weddin' and 
he said there weren't goin' to be no weddin'. And when 
the parson asked what was on he just said he was goin' 
west right away, and then he cleared. My idea," con- 
tinued Deegan confidentially, "is that he's gone crazed — 
a spree does take a man that way sometimes. Why, I— 
Good land I what's wrong ?" 

Slowly Mrs. West had understood his words. She re- 
membered how Briscoe had said to her there would be 
no wedding. She understood that she had overreached 
herself and destroyed her hope of revenge by her own too 
eager anxiety. She knew the agony of his remorse and 
understood that he was breaking his engagement and 



St 



IS4 



Constance West 



leaving the country rather than give Annie a husband 
subject to such a vice. In a moment there came to her 
the sense of her impotence, her failure. She saw that the 
revenge wherewith she had planned to strike John Leigh 
through his daughter had passed them by to crush a man 
against whom she had no animosity. To her disordered 
mind this seemed a fresh triumph over her, a fresh injury, 
another addition to the long list of ills her husband had 
done to her. ' 

"It's not true," she said hoarsely. 

"You bet it is," he answered. "Why, the whole town's 
just humming with it" 

She raised her hands above her head, and in her 
heart the fountains of her rage broke up and overflowed. 
Deegan stood before her, but as a nurse lifts aside a 
naughty child, so she, small and slight, swung the big 
man from her path. The door was closed, she did not 
attempt to open it by lifting the latchj; but with both 
hands she began to beat upon the panels, while Deegan 
watched, too bewildered to interfere. At her first blow, 
heavy, swinging, with both hands, the door shook on its 
hinges ; at the second, the panel split from top to bottom ; 
at the third^ it burst right open. Her clenched hands 
went through the shattered wood so that she could not 
easily withdraw them, and the splinters tore the skin so 
that they bled. Then Deegan came to her side, his lower 
jaw drc^ping with his amazement, and she drew back and 
looked alternately at the shattered panel and her bleeding 
bands. 

'"Look/' she said, and held them out to him. ^What is 
it?" 

''They're hurt," be answered. "It's blood." 



155 



Constance West 



"That is what I want/' she said terribly, and he drew 
back and shuddered, but still watched her with fascinated 
eyes, 

"I don't understand," he said feebly. 

She turned sharply on him, furious of aspect, with lifted, 
bleeding hands, with her single eye blazing in her rage, 
and before her he drew back and cowered down. 

"To ruin him," she said; "to destroy him utterly — to 
ruin, ruin, ruin him." 

"Yes, ma'am/' he answered soothingly, in utter bewil- 
derment. "That's it, of course." 

"Oh," she cried, "I am so weak — so lonely — I can do 
nothing." 

She dropped into a chair and laid down her head upon 
the table and wept slow, difficult tears ; of hate, of rage^ 
of baffled impotence* At once he sprang to her side. 

"Don't," he said "I can't bear that I'll shoot him,, 
shall I?" 

She only shook her head. 

"I mean it," he said. "Shall I shoot him?" he repeated 
in a whisper as he bent down. His heart hardly beat any 
faster as he waited for her answer. "I will shoot him," 
he said, after an interval 

"I want to die, too," she said ; "for death is so easy. I 
want t6 see him ruined, destroyed, humbled, suflfering." 

"I understand/' he said, and thought he did. "I'll do 
It" 

"I would give my soul," she answered, "to know it- 
done." 

His breath came quickly. He leaned across the table. 
He whispered in her ear. 

"If I do— that— will you do what I ask?" 

156 



Constance West 



"Anything," she answered dully, hardly understanding 
what he said. "Anything, anything," she repeated twice 
over, 

"I'll do it," he said. 

She heard him and glanced up quickly* 

"Will you?" she asked 

He nodded without speaking, for it seemed to him that 
words were trivial things. She read the determination in 
his face — ^the fierce determination and the keen desire. 
Their eyes met and neither wavered. She leaned over 
to him and deliberately she kissed him on the mouth. 

He leaped to his feet, all his blood iafire. 

"I would do murder for that," he said fiercely. 

"But not shooting," she repeated, "for I want to see 
it all." 

"Ill fix him, 111 ruin him," said Deegan and nodded to 
her. "Anything, mind ; anything, you said." 

"Whatever you ask," she affirmed. 

They lodced at each other in silence, and then Mrs. 
West flung back her head and laughed because she could 
not weep. But though she did not know it, here was 
other matter for laughter. It was Arthur Briscoe whom 
Deegan had twice seen her cajole; it was the news of 
Briscoe's departure that had caused this outbreak, and so 
it was Briscoe of whom Deegan now thought and whose 
ruin he believed the object of her desire. As to his past 
jealousy of John Leigh, now he hardly remembered that 
at all. But to Mrs. West, Briscoe was an unconsidered 
puppet and she thought alone of her husband. Thus they 
were at cross-purposes, neither even considering the pos- 
sibility of confusion. 

ni put the job through in short time," said Deegan 

157 



iiT9^ 



Constance West 



and left the room. Soon she heard the galloping of his 
horses as he drove away. She sat still, staring stonily be- 
fore her, occasionally wiping her lips, and in her mind 
thoughts that burned like the fires of hell. 



X58 



CHAPTER XVIII 



IN Canada one does not often walk, but this time, 
Briscoe, though his horse still stood in the hotel 
stable, resolved to travel back to his shanty on foot 
It had been his original intention to take the west- 
em train that same day, writing briefly to Annie to inform 
her of his determination, his reason, and his sorrow. But 
in spite of his indifference and pre-occupation and his de- 
sire to get away as fast as possible, he found it necessary 
to make one more visit to his shanty and therefore had 
been obliged to postpone his departure till the next day. 

He walked on steadily, oddly indifferent to everything, 
his mind conscious, indeed, of the magnitude of his loss 
and his disgrace, but too stunned to realize fully his own 
intentions. It seemed to him that the world, and all that 
made life worth living had slipt away from him, and 
cver)rthing had become of minor interest It can hardly 
be said that he suffered now, for the extremity of the 
mental anguish through which he had passed had proved 
its own anodyne. For the same reason he felt now no 
anger against Deegan or Mrs. West, though there had 
> been moments when he had planned to destroy them both. 
But now he only recognized that he was not fit to marry 
Annie and that therefore he must go away and never see 
her again. He was determined he would not see her — ^not 
even to say "good-bye." That was the one coherent 



IS9 



Constance West 



thought in his mind, and he did not know he had decided 
to walk that he might remain longer in her vicinity. 

In this mood of indifference Briscoe walked on till he 
heard horses behind and presently Deegan overtook him. 
Briscoe was neither surprised nor interested ; he glanced 
up, saw who it was, shuddered a little and plodded on. 

".Where are you going?" asked Deegan, reining in his 
horses so as to keep by Briscoe's side. 

"Straight on," was the brief answer. 

"Well, jump up and I'll give you a lift," continued Dee- 
gan, but Briscoe shook his head. "Reckon youVe mad 
with me ?" asked the saloonkeeper. 

"Mad? Oh, no,^* answered Briscoe, and then Deegan 
pressed him again to accept the proffered lift 

It did not appear to Briscoe that either this or anything 
else was really worth discussion, so he consented and at 
once Deegan started off at a rapid rate. 

"Head bad ?" he asked presently. 

Briscoe appeared to consider this question for a little 
and then answered that he did not know. 

"Well, I swan," muttered Deegan uneasily. 

He was not quite happy in his mind, but he explained 
to himself several times that after all no one could be 
really much the worse for a bit of a spree, and that he 
obeyed Mrs. West's wishes. It appeared to him that the 
responsibility rested upon her and that he was justified 
since what he did was done to serve her. "Anyway, I 
don't care," he muttered ; "what she says, goes ; and if me 
or him gets hurt, that's our look out" He glanced at his 
silent companion, without animosity but also with deter- 
mination. With an elaborately careless air he produced 
a pocket flask. 



i6o 



Constance West 



"Have some?" he asked. "It'll do you good." 

In silence Briscoe took the proffered bottle, smelled it, 
shuddered, looked at it again, then poured a drop into 
the palm of his hand and examined it long and closely. 

"What's that for ?" asked Deegan, staring. 

"It is so little to give so much for," answered Briscoe, 
abstractedly. 

"There's a dollar's worth there, anyway," said Deegan, 
wondering what was meant. 

"A dollar's worth," repeated Briscoe* "I gave my soul 
for it ; my soul and her." 

"Well, take a drink, anyway," suggested Deegan, who 
found these remarks beyond his comprehension. 

"I think I would rather not, thank you/' said Briscoe. 
He relapsed into his former attitude, sitting crouching 
with his head between his hands. 

"Guess he's crazy still," muttered Deegan, and partly to 
relieve his feelings and partly to prevent Briscoe from 
alighting he began to travel faster. 

He was driving two colts that were but half broken, and 
now he began occasionally to touch them with his whip 
till their trot changed to a gallop. He was a good driver, 
and he kept them both well in hand, but the light buggy 
swayed and jumped with the speed. Briscoe still sat in 
the same attitude, apparently unaware of the excessive 
pace, nor did he show any sign of consciousness when they 
left the main track and branched off to one side. In spite 
of the swaying and jerking of the buggy he made no 
attempt to hold on, so that once or twice Deegan wondered 
whether he would not be thrown out, but for that he did 
not relax his speed. At last Briscoe spoke. 

''Why are you going this way?" he asked, as though 

j6i L 



Constance West 



it 



recognizing for the first time that they had not kept to 
the proper trail. 

"It's as good as any other/' answered Deegah witii a 
sidelong look at him^ and Briscoe seemed to find the an- 
swer satisfactory. 

''You are driving fast/' he said again as Deegan 
dashed headlong down a ravine and then flogged the 
horses up the other side with barely diminished speed. 
'Are you afraid?" asked Deegan. 
'Why, no/' answered Briscoe, and it almost seemed as 
though the question amused him. "This is the way to 
Jim Cross's place/' he said suddenly. 

"That's where we're goin'/' said Deegan abruptly. 

"He's a bad lot/' said Briscoe thoughtfully ; "so we'll 
go quick/' 

He leaned over and took deliberately the whip and reins 
from Deegan's grasp. Then he stood up in the buggy 
and began to flog the colts, till half mad with terror and 
pain, with heads down and ears laid back, they tore on 
at their utmost speed. The light buggy bounded behind 
them, both wheels leaving the ground for yards at a time ; 
so that Deegah had to hold with both hands to keep his 
place. Still Briscoe stood upright, balancing himself by a 
miracle and continually urging on the almost maddened 
animals. Deegan wondered how long it would be before 
the inevitable crash, his face went just a little pale and he 
was glad that at least if Briscoe broke his neck it would 
be by his own fault. He set his teeth firmly and waited. 

"There's Jim Cross's place," said Briscoe, stooping to- 
wards him and then again pl3ring his whip. 

Qinging to the buggy with firmest grip and expecting 
every moment to see the end of this mad gallop, Deegan 

162 



Constance West 



could just make out at some distance before them a 
group of buildings fenced in with barbed wire. It lay 
right in their path, for the trail they were following led 
straight there. With a sudden access of fear Deegan 
shouted to slow down. For only answer Briscoe used his 
whip again, still standing upright, wonderfully preserv- 
ing his balance on the buggy that now progressed only by 
bounds, and still in silence he urged on the furious horses. 
Deegan wondered whether to try to snatch the reins from 
him. But that would certainly mean catastrophe; and 
Deegan had an odd superstitious feeling that he wished 
the accident he certainly foresaw to be Briscoe's own act 

"Can't be my fault/' he muttered, "if he's driving. 
Now it's comin'." As he spoke he shut his eyes and 
thought of Mrs. West 

The farm was now very near, and in the yard a man 
was excitedly running and shouting to them to stop. The 
house, a low building with a sod roof, was built against a 
little knoll that here rose abruptly from the generally level 
prairie. On one side of it was a granary, on the other a 
stable; the granary standing away by itself,, the stable 
built, like the house, against the knoll from which part of 
its space had been hollowed out The whole was enclosed 
in a barbed wire fence that showed but one narrow gap 
where the trail ran through, and even this was partly 
closed by the branch of a tree that lay across it 

Swiftly came the buggy, the maddened horses still 
urged on to yet greater efforts by Briscoe's stinging whip. 
Without slackening speed for even one moment he drove 
them straight at the gap, the buggy swaying from side 
to side as it neared a passage where an inch to this hand 
^r to that must mean immediate catastrophe. But as by a 



163 



Constance West 



mirade the wheel just grazed one post, the tree branch 
was smashed aside, and the buggy still retained its balance 
as the smoking horses drew up at the door of the shanty 
and stood there, trembling violently. 

'^Runaway ?" asked Jim Cross, coming up, considerably 
surprised to see them safe. 

"No," said Briscoe, 

"No?" cried Cross. "Then I reckon it was suicide." 

"I guess," answered Briscoe and jumped down to the 
ground. 

"Now," cried Deegan, who hitherto had been busily 
occupied in feeling himself all over as though to make 
sure that he was really unhurt ; "now perhaps you'll ex- 
plain what your little game is ?" 

"What's yours?" answered Briscoe, moodily, and the 
question silenced the other. 

Cross and Deegan busied themselves with the cdts and 
Briscoe watched them. Then suddenly Deegan turned to 
him again, his face red with anger. 

"Curse you," he cried passionately; "you might have 
killed us both." 

"Then there would have been two blackguards the less 
in the world," retorted Briscoe, and turning he walked 
into the shanty and sat down there in his old attitude, his 
head between his hands. 

"What's it all mean, anyway?" asked Cross. 

"Means there's going to be trouble," said Deegan fu- 
riously. "I'll let no Britisher play it on me like that." 

Before there had been a certain amount of hesitation in 
his mind, he had felt vaguely ashamed, and so now he was 
secretly glad to find some reason to hold resentment 
against Briscoe. Before he had had to stifle a feeling 

164 



r 



Constance West 



that he was attempting to ruin one who had never injured 
him in the least ; now he said to himself that he had barely 
escaped with his life, even that Briscoe had deliberately 
tried to kill him, and he tried to think himself justified in 
adopting any means of retaliation. He muttered to him- 
self with exaggerated anger as he unhitched the colts and 
found in their distressed condition fresh reason for bis 



"Tries to kill me and ruin my two best colts," he 
growled. "Fll show him, I'll let him know." 

He placed the two colts in the stable and in walking 
back to the house he noticed that everything seemed to be 
in unusually good order. Cross had a yoke of oxen and 
these were fastened to a wagon with before them enough 
hay and water to last for a day or two. Even a few 
melancholy looking hens were rejoicing over an extra sup- 
ply of grain ; and a couple of pigs were doing their best 
to dispose of two days^ allowance in one glorious feed. 
Deegan took in all this and lodced inquiringly at his 
companion. 

**Well, you see," said Cross in answer to this look ; "the 
wheat's all stacked and there won't be no thrasher for 
awhile and I thought I might have a bit of a sprees 
maybe." 

"So you was going into towii for a big drunk," inter- 
rupted Deegan with a g^n ; "and fixin' up your stock so 
as they'd be all right till you was sober again, eh ?" 

"That's about the size of it," admitted Cross, quite 
unabashed. 

^'I thought John Leigh made you swear off.'' 

*^Why, that was in the spring," answered Cross rather 
aggrieved. "I am just in good shape for a spree now. I 

165 



Constance West 



it' 



can be in town and drunk to-night, sobering to-morrow 
and back the next day. See?" 

"I see," said Deegan; "but look here." 

He went to the back of his buggy and showed there 
some jars of whisky. 

''What's on now?" asked Cross, and coming up he 
began to pat the jars with little loving gestures. 
I'm after a spree, too," said Deegan. 
Why have you come out here for it then?" asked 
Cross. "And the young fellow — where does he come 
in?" 

"I'll learn him to try to kill me and ruin my best colts. 
Do you want as much whisky as you like free of charge 
all this winter?" 

"Do I want all Heaven in a band-box ?" returned Cross. 
"But what are you getting at?" 

"If you'll chip in and help me, you shall have all you 
can drink this winter. I brought this young fellow — " 

"Seemed to me rather as though he brought you," in- 
terrupted Cross with a grin. 

You quit fooHn', Jim Cross," said Deegan resentfully. 
I want him — I want him to have a bit of a spree, too— 

I—" 
"Goon. \VTiat'sbackofitall?" 

"It's this way," said Deegan but still with hesitation, 
for he had some difficulty in finding appropriate words 
that would put a gloss upon his ugly intentions. "He's 
a pet of Leigh's," he said abruptly. 

"A pet of Leigh's eh?" repeated Cross. "I'm on. We'll 
fix hinu What you want is to make him beastly drunk for 
two or three days, and then to take him round and ask 
John Leigh what he thinks of him." 

i66 



u 
it 



Constance West 



"That's about it," said Deegan slowly. He had not 
before been aware how mean his intentions would appear 
-when plainly put. Now he saw the thing clearly and 
faced it, and thought of his reward to be, "That's just it," 
he said 



ify 



/il-J . 



Sr- 



f*. 



V-i 



CHAPTER XIX 



JIM CROSS'S shanty was built of single boards and 
consequently afforded little protection against the 
rigours of the Northern winter. Impelled there- 
fore by necessity he had hollowed out the side of 
the knoll against which he had built At first he had 
simply intended this to serve as a store room for potatoes 
and other roots^ but he had enlarged it until now it ran 
even with the size of the shanty and formed a second 
room to which he retired at the approach of the cold 
weather, and which he boasted, not without reason, to be 
the warmest habitation in the neighbourhood. He had 
carefully boarded the sides and roof, which was supported 
by two stout beams, and it formed a by no means uncom- 
fortable apartment There was a stove in it and, by 
considerable effort, he had managed to carry the piping 
out above so that he could keep a fire going. He had 
also cut a narrow opening through the side of the knoll, 
boarded it and put a pane of glass at each end so that a 
little light struggled through. Ventilation, it is to be 
feared, did not trouble him much. And certainly this 
chamber, hollowed out of the side of the little hill, had 
the supreme merits of coolness in summer and warmth in 
winter; no matter how strongly the north wind blewj it 
never penetrated there. 

In the outer room, the shanty proper, Briscoe now sat 
quietly with his elbows resting on a small table that stood 



i68 



Constance West 



by the window and near the cooking stove. Over his 
head were two or three shelves holding a collection of 
Cross's possessions. Opposite was the bunk, formed of 
planks fixed against the wall and luxuriously provided 
with half a dozen blankets. Besides the chair that Briscoe 
sat on, a milking stool and the stump of a tree provided a 
superfluity of seats, and there were also two packing 
cases that served indifferently as chairs or tables. On one 
of them now stood all Cross's crockery, carefully washed 
up, he having thought it desirable to do a little cleaning 
before starting for his projected spree. On the walls were 
several sketches from illustrated papers, now nearly ob- 
literated by fly-marks, and a broken looking-glass. The 
whole interior made up as dirty and untidy a shack as 
could be found within fifty miles. Some men keep their 
places tidy enough, but Cross was not of their number. 

For some minutes Briscoe remained alone, and, still pos- 
sessed by the feeling of utter indifference that had lately 
held him, he sat silently waiting, making no attempt to 
leave or to pursue his interrupted journey. He was not 
exactly thinking; he was simply conscious of his misery 
and of his folly and he cared nothing except that the past 
was unalterable and unforgetable. 

Presently the other two men came In and Cross placed 
very carefully the jars of whisky in a comer of the room, 
' except one which he put on the table with two cups and 
a tin pannikin. 

"Now we are ready,** he said with satisfaction^, his eyes 
twinkling. 'Tire away^ boys." 

•'Now, Briscoe," said Deegan, pushing up one of the 
packing cases, affording a better seat than either the milk- 
ing stool or the tree stump. 

t6g 



Constance West 



"1 

u 



''What is it ?'* asked Briscoe without moving. 

"Why, this," cried Cross, tapping the whisky jar and 
beaming with good temper and anticipated happiness. 
"Get a move on you, young fellow." 

"We are going to have a high old time," announced 
Deegan ; "a regular old time spree." 

"A spree?" repeated Briscoe, looking up. 

"That's what A regular good high old time." 

1 see," said Briscoe slowly. "A jolly spree." 

'A real jolly spree," agreed Cross. 

'A thoroughly enjoyable happy pleasant time all to- 
gether," continued Briscoe in the same level passionless 
tones. 

"That's what," cried Cross, who already had had a 
drink or two and was still beaming with good temper. 
But Deegan looked rather puzzled and uneasy. 

"Now for a real good time, boys," cried Cross again, 
after he had helped himself to another drink. "Now 
we'll enjoy ourselves and to blazes with machine agents 
and gophers and mortgages and everything else. A real 
good time," he repeated, banging the table for emphasis. 

"Right you arc," said Briscoe, loudly. "Here's for a 
beginning." 

He leaned back in his chair, and picking up half a dozen 
plates dashed them on the floor so that they broke into 
little pieces. The other two men stared at him with open 
mouthed amazement, that changed to indignation as he 
put out his hand towards a jug near. 

"Here, hold on," they cried together, and Cross con- 
tinued angrily: "Them's all I've got (What are you 
playin' at, anyway?" 



170 



Constance West 






"Having a spree, of course," said Briscoe. "Oh, I know 
the correct procedure. This comes next." 

He took up a pan and began to beat it on the corner 
of the table^ making a hideous noise and denting in the 
bottom till Cross snatched it from him with a volley of 
oaths. 

^That's a brand new pan," he cried furiously. 
'Aren't we having a spree?" asked Briscoe, and taking 
the piece of looking-glass from the wall he dashed it 
against the stove, shivering it into fragments. 

"Look here," said Cross appealingly, turning to Dee- 
gan ; "you take this lunatic back to town, or I won't have 
a thing left — ^and, young fellow, this will cost you ten 
dollars." 

"Not a cent," retorted Briscoe. "It's a spree, so it's the 
regular thing. Have you ever seen a spree where every- 
thing movable was not brc^en? Oh, I'm not green at this 
game, am I, Deegan?" 

He looked about him with the undiminished gravity 
that had characterized him all through and it was evi- 
dent that he contemplated further action. His two com- 
panions stared at him with a bewilderment too deep for 
utterance or movement 

"But — " cried Cross, and then stopped and looked to 
Deegan for I^elp. "Here, stow it," he cried suddenly, as 
he thought Briscoe about to begin again. He rubbed his 
head with an air of complete stupefication and then ex- 
claimed in sudden triumph as he thought of a conclusive 
argument. "That's so, but you ain't drunk. Doggone 
you, you ain't drunk." 

"I know I'm not," said Briscoe. "Should you think it 
all right if I were ? Oh, what folly aiid I the biggest fool 

171 



>. 



Constance West 



of all. Cross, you think it silly to smash pots sober, wiiy 
not as silly to do it drunk?" 

"Well," said Cross, still staring at him and ready for 
the next outbreak ; "it seems sort of natural when you're 
drunk; I reckon all the boys do it then." 

"Ay," said Briscoe slowly ; "all of us — ^and some of us 
hearts instead of cups. So I thought I would do it sober 
and see how it looked.'* 

"Oh, it's a fool's game sober," said Cross with de- 
cision ; "and you want to stow it" He helped himself to 
more whisky. 

"It is a fool's game," said Briscoe ; "and I will stow it 
So long." 

He moved towards the door, intending to go, but Dee- 
gan stepped before him. 

"Not yet," he said ; "stop a while longer." 

Deegan's manner was awkward and embarrassed, but 
yet determined. Briscoe did not answer, But eyed him 
with anger and a keen bitterness. 

'Get out of the way," he said. 

'You ain't goin' till you're as drunk as the next man," 
said Deegan slowly. 

"You've helped me make a beast of myself twice," said 
Briscoe; "and that's enough. This time you shall be the 
swine you wish without my help." He spoke with an 
angry bitter contempt that brought a flush to Deegan's 
cheek, and then he added abruptly: "Let me pass or — ^" 

"I came here," said Deegan with slow deliberation, "to 
6ee you drunk, and drunk you've got to be/' 

*'Get out of my way." 

"Not I," said Deegan. "I'll keep you here if I have to 






172 



■■ 



Constance West 



fasten you up with the logging chain and pour the whisky 
down you by a funnel."^ 

Briscoe looked at him in surprise; puzzled and angty. 
He did not understand the other's motive, but there was 
about, him a resolute air that showed he meant what he 
said* Deegan was much the stronger man so that if it 
actually came to blows the odds were on his side; but 
Briscoe had all the average Englishman's instinctive re- 
liance on the law. 

"You don't dare," he said contemptuously. "I would 
make you smart if you tried anything of that kind on. 
Are you so fond of gaol that you want to go back?" 

"Oh, that don't work," retorted Deegan angrily, for 
the gibe had touched a tender spot. "Who'd believe you if 
I said we was all on the burst together?" 

Briscoe looked a little taken aback at this. 

"This is all nonsense," he said after a pause during 
which the two men eyed each other steadily. "What is it 
you want?" 

"Never you mind. I brought you here for a spree and 
a spree you shall have, whether you like it or not." 

"Are you in this, Cross?" asked Briscoe^, turning to 
him. 

"You bet," answered Cross promptly. "You smashed 
my plates ; only manners you should get drunk now." 

"Better take it reasonable," urged Deegan. 

"Much better," agreed Cross on whom the whisky he 
had taken was already producing an effect "Don't want 
to use the loggin' chain, y'know." 

"You didn't mind it a little bit last time," said Deegan 
again ; "and it ain't such bad fun." 

"Fun !" cried Briscoe^ and with a sudden movement he 



173 



Constance West 



bit Deegan between the eyes and as be staggered at the 
blow* jumped past him to the door. But in a moment 
the saloon-keeper had recovered his balance. He seized 
Briscoe by the coat^ aiid then they grappled and rolled 
over together. 

Deegan was much the heavier man and as they fell he 
was uppermost, but by a sudden movement Briscoe caught 
him by the collar of his shirt and made a desperate atten^t 
to choke him off. Endeavouring to free himself De^;an 
rolled to one side, but Briscoe still clung to him with all 
his strength so that he could hardly breathe. Now the 
young Englishman was on top but Deegan struggled 
again, and once more they rolled over, bumping heavily 
against the table. Hitherto Cross had sat still, watching 
them stupidly, but now he sprang up, swearing at the 
top of his voice, and hit Briscoe so heavily across the 
wrist that his numbed hand opened and Deegan breathed 
freely ag^in. 

"Let me up," he gasped as he recovered his breath, and 
then in spite of Briscoe's struggles they began hauling 
him towards the table. For one moment he got his left 
hand free and with all his force hit Cross clear on the 
right temple. He fell heavily full length across the pack- 
ing case and in his fall smashed most of the crockery that 
was left with resulting and painful damage to his own 
person. Bellowing with rage and pain he sprang up and 
kicked Briscoe's feet from under him so that he lost his 
balance and fell. At once Deegan knelt cm him^ holding 
him powerless, and then Cross tied his arms together 
at the elbows. Then they pulled him up again and forced 
him into the chair, where Deegan held him down by both 
shoulders. The two men were breathing heavily, and 



174 



Constance West 



Briscoe stared at them, helpless as he now was, with un- 
diminished defiance. 

"Now what are you going to do?" he demanded. "Mind, 
I'll see that you pay for this." 

"Young rat," cried Cross, who was ruefully feeling the 
damaged portions of his own frame, where the sharp 
pieces of the crockery had cut him^ and at intervals his 
eye, which was already beginning to discolour. "You'll do 
the payin' for this," he cried, and shook his hand viciously 
in Briscoe's face. 

"Get the whisky," said Deegan briefly ; "we'll finish the 
job now." 

Briscoe did not attempt to speak. He still breathed in 
heavy gasps from the exertion of the struggle, and in his 
eyes the cold indifference had scattered before the steady 
light of his indignation. 

"Here y'are," said Cross, handing a full pannikin ; "but, 
Lord, it's a waste of good liquor." 

"Put it in his mouth," said Deegan ; "if I don't hold 
him tight, he'll be up again." And the quick flash in 
Briscoe's eyes supplied sufficient proof of that 

"Drink, you young rat," said Cross; "drink, dodrot 
you." 

Briscoe kept his mouth obstinately shut, his teeth firmly 
clenched. 

"That's his little game, is it?" said Deegan. "Push his 
head back, now pour it on his lips." 

But still Briscoe kept his mouth closed tightly, and 
the liquor merely ran down his chin and was wasted. 

"Sulky, eh ?" said Cross. "Csesar ! And to think how 
many of the boys are just aching for a chance like this, 
dry all through, some of 'em.' 



99 



175 



Constance West 



*'We'U soon settle that/' said Deegan angrily. "Pinch 
his nose so as he can't breatbei and when he opens his 
mouthy pour it down/' 

"Good for you,** said Cross^ grinning and did aa he 
was told. 

Still Briscoe kept his lips as tightly pressed as before 
and bdiind them his teeth clenched with rigour, his jaw 
set tight It appeared to him that now he had a chance 
to retrieve his manhood and he cared little whether he 
died in the effort or not A huge wdght came upon his 
chest and it seemed as though his lungs would burst He 
made little convulsive movements with his limbs, there 
was a throbbing in his brain, and the veins at his temples 
stood out The pressure became intolerable ; he was not 
capable of ccmnected thought, but he was aware of Annie 
and of his late disgrace and his resolution still held. He 
was hardly conscious, his head swam, his face began to go 
black and his eyes to roll wildly. In another second he 
would have lost consciousness and then his lips must have 
opened. 

"Gosh, he'U die/' cried Cross^ suddenly afraid and 
drew back. 

Briscoe opened his mouth instinctively and breathed 
again, nearly choking with the sudden change. His mouth 
hung open and he took in the air with short gasps ; and 
Deegan watched him with sour anger. 

"You take the first trick," he said ; "but I'm bound to 
see this thing through. You'll stop here till you're rea- 
sonable. Jim, you get your loggin' chain and some rivets 
and I'll fix him so he won't get it off without a file." 

"Never mind worryin' about the, loggin' chain," sug- 

176 



Constance West 



gested Cross. "Shove him inside and let him stay there, 
I want a drink ; I'm that dry I can hardly speak." 

"Would he be safe?" 

"Safe ? I reckon. Unless he can dig his way through 
thirty feet of solid earth. That's dug out of the side of 
the hill, that is, and there ain't no way out except tiiat 
door. I reckon we can fix that" 

"Well, then, in you get," said Deegan, and together 
the two men pushed their prisoner inside the inner room. 

"And when you've come to your senses again," said 
Cross, "you shall have all the whisky that's left, and I 
reckon that won't be a great deal, maybe." 

"You don't have nothin' else," said Deegan, surveying 
his prisoner with sullen temper, "By thunder, young fel- 
low, you shall have whisky and nothin' but whisky. Mind» 
I'm out to see this through," 

**You will see more than you will like before you are 
through with it," returned Briscoe. "Remember this is 
not the United States — ^there is law here." 

"You listen to me," continued Deegan, unheeding the 
Jnterruption. "I'll tell you what I'm after. You shan't 
have a thing that don't taste of whisky. By Gosh, I'll 
make you so you can't live without it You shall have 
whisky in your tea, whisky in your bannock, whisky in 
your water ; if I give you porridge I'll put whisky in it, 
J if I fry you bacon I'll put whisky on it. I'll have you so 
that ever3rthing you get tastes of whisky ; in a little while 
I'll have you soaked with it, through and through, so that 
you won't be able to live without it. Yes, sir; whisky 
you shall have and nothin' but whisky, and we'll see who 
is best man and who comes out of this deal on top. You 
hear me ?" 

177 M 



Constance West 



"Oh, get out/' said Briscoe; ''and think of the gaol 
ahead of you." 

For a moment Deegan stood, surveying the other with a 
deep and sullen fury. Then he went banging the door 
behind him and Briscoe was left to his own reflections. 



178 



CHAPTER XX 




^HE disappearance of Deegan was a cause of 
some. wonder in the little town, but when Mrs. 
West, who undertook the management of the 
hotel in his absence, was asked where he had 
gone she simply replied that he had been suddenly called 
away on business. . Few believed her, but after all there 
was no one sufficiently interested to pursue the subject 
and none to connect, with Deegan's absence, Briscoe's 
failure to carry out his expressed determination of re- 
turning to take the next westward train. "On the bust," 
was the laconic explanation usually given when the 
name of either man was mentioned. 

For the first two days of Deegan's disappearance Mrs. 
West went about her work much as usual though now 
beneath her still preserved outer mask of indifference, 
the tumult of her spirits appeared more clearly. Sev- 
eral times she was heard muttering to herself, and her 
patience that before had seemed unending now broke 
down occasionally even on trivial points. In truth she 
was consumed between two fires, her anger at her hus- 
band and her dread of Deegan's errand. In the night she 
would awake from dreadful dreams; and sometimes she 
seemed to hear plainly the sobbing of a woman in great 
grief and sometimes again lips meeting hers in another 
kiss. Nevertheless she still fanned the lurid flame in her 
heart and obstinately determined to make no effort to 
check Deegan or to warn John Leigh. For that the 



179 



Constance West 



saloon-keeper had gone with hostile intent against him 
«he never doubted, only wondering what form it would 
take, "He went at my bidding," she said to herself H 
hundred times a day, and each time set her teeth mor^ 
firmly. 

On the afternoon of the third day Mrs, West wa§ 
told that Miss Annie wanted to see hen She went out 
slowly to where Annie waited. Apparently she was um 
concerned enough but really she was all prepared to hea? 
of catastrophe. "Has he killed him ?" she said to herself, 
and for all her fierce anger, could not prevent the fear thai 
seized her at the thought Expecting such tidings, her 
mind braced to receive them, she walked quietly with 
steady step and unchanged countenance, and held out her 
hand to Annie with a friendly look. 

"Oh, Mrs. West,** cried the girU T do so want to 
see you.** 

"Oh," said Mrs. West slowly, but now with a relaxa- 
tion of the tension that had held her before ; for she saw 
that Annie's manner was of trouble surely but not of 
tragedy. "Is anything wrong? 'Come into the office. 
Mr. Deegan is away.'* 

Obediently Annie followed her Into the little room at 
the back, and inside it they turned and faced each othen 
It was an odd attitude they both assumed, for it had in it 
something of a hostile suggestion as each stood upright 
and looked straight at the other. But that did not occur 
to Annie. Though she wondered vaguely why Mrs* 
West watched her so closely, she herself saw only the 
familiar and longed-for friend of her own sex ; and the 
thought of her trouble overwhelmed her so that she 
could not speak. 

i8o 



■•■ 



Constance West 



"And Mr. Leigh, how is he ?" asked Mrs. West 

"Quite well, thank you," said Annie mechanically, 
thinking how to begin her story. 

"Indeed," said Mrs. West, and felt at once bitter dis- 
appointment because as yet he had suffered nothing from 
her, and greatest relief that he was still unhurt in body 
end estate. ^ ' : . • /i a ^ '< { 

"Mrs. West," began Annie, and then paused. "Mr. 
Briscoe," she said and then stopped again. Suddenly she 
burst into tears and, springing forward, put her arms 
round Mrs. West and leant her head against her and 
poured out her sorrow in long quivering sobs — ^and in the 
silent room Mrs, West heard with reverberating sound 
the soft continued sobbing. Against her heart lay 
Annie's head, around her pressed Annie's arms, and Mrs. 
West thought of those sad far distant tears she had 
wept when first she knew her husband's fault It was 
strange how distinctly she remembered. It was as 
though she lay again in her mother's arms, sobbing out 
her very heart, while in the Court House opposite her hus* 
band's disgrace and hers was displayed for all to see. 
Almost it seemed to her that these were her own sobs 
she heard so plainly; and involuntarily her arms closed 
round Annie and she held her tightly to her, and mur- 
mured soft comforting words. She quite forgot that 
. Ibis was an interloperi the child of one who had usurped 
her place, and when she did remember, it amazed her 
that none the less the fire of her anger etill remained duU 
gnd cold. 

"He has gone away from me," said Annie piteously, 
and Mrs. West, to her own astonishment, comforted the 
girl gently. At last, in sentences still broken by deep 

i8i 



Constance West 



sobs, Annie told how she had had a letter from Briscoe 
bidding her farewell and how it was five days since she 
had seen him. 

"The letter only came to-day/' she said. "I wondered 
so where he was. Then it came in the mail and by now 
he is on the Pacific coast and I shall never, never see him 
again." 

"And the reason?'* said Mrs. West moodily. "It is 
better so." 

"It isn't," cried Annie. "What do I care for his rea- 
sons. And how do you know ?" 

"His last outbreak is common property," replied Mrs. 
West, and saw how Annie winced. Very keenly Mrs, 
West remembered how that outbreak had been caused. 

"I don't care," said Annie, and then she repeated 
again: "I don't care." But her face was pale and her 
sobbing had quite ceased. 

"Do you know what it would mean," said Mrs. West, 
and to her each word was bitter as gall; "to have a 
drunken husband that you say you do not care?" 

"I do care," cried Annie. "Oh, it is horrible. Yes, I 
do care. But now it is too late, for I promised and I have 
his own ring. And I know he is so sorry." 

"Oh, they are always sorry," said Mrs. West with in- 
creased bitterness. "But it is too late after you are mar- 
ried." 

"It is the same thing," said Annie. "I promised and 
am I to back out because I find faults in him?'^ 

''But such a fault" 

'THe is very sorry. And I promised." 

**Girl," cried Mrs. West ; "you do not understand. You 
do not know the awful, the infinite degradation. Rather 
thank God for a fortunate escape than dream of calling 

I&2 



Constance West 



him back. Think of it ; to be bound body and soul to a 
man you cannot respect, much less love. To see the man 
whom you swore to honour, making himself lower than 
the beasts ; to see your own the mock of all decent folk ; 
to see your heart trampled out in filth and mud." Mrs. 
West's voice rose shrill with agony, quavered and broke ; 
then resumed. ''Imagine perhaps being struck by him." 
She paused again and added in a yet lower tone, ''Think 
of his kisses, loathsome with drink." 

"I am so sorry," said Annie. Tears ran down her 
cheeks again and she held out both her hands. "I 
think we are two miserable women," she said. 

"What do you mean? What do you mean?" cried 
Mrs. West in surprise and sudden fear. 

"I understand," said Annie. "And, ohl I am so sorry 
for you because I know how you have suffered." 

Mrs. West did not answer, but it came to her that her 
suffering had never made her sorry for any other per- 
son. It seemed strange to her that sorrow should make 
the heart tender as it had made hers hard. She wished 
that Annie would show some anger against the man who 
had left her so. Suddenly she was aware that Annie's 
sympathy had been strangely sweet to her, that now 
there were tears on her cheeks also. She brushed them 
off impatiently, determined that she would not give way. 
She called up all her resolution. 

"Never mind me," she said harshly. "Would you 
dare marry him knowing what you know? If so, you 
deserve the misery you will most certainly suffer." 

"I think," said Annie, hesitatingly; "I think I would 
do even that — ^if I knew he really loved me. But I would 
make him prove he loved me by quite giving it up. 



i8^ 



Constance West 



Then I would marry him when I was quite certain he 
was cured'^ 

"Such men are never cured/* 

"Oh, yes ; they are. I should say he must prove his 
sorrow and that he loved me as well as I loved him by 
giving it up entirely, and that I must wait till I was sure 
he had Then I should know he loved me, and how 
beautiful it would be to know that he had conquered for 
my sake." 

"Dreams," said Mrs. West, watching with understand- 
ing the glow on Annie's cheeks. "Dreams with bitter 
wakening. He would break out again." 

"I would not let him," answered Annie. "I know 
Arthur. He is very good, if he is weak in some things, 
I would strengthen him." 

"Weak ? And yet you love him ?" 

"I think — I think perhaps that is why. It is so strange 
that he who is so strong is yet so weak. I would always 
guard and help him. And how could I love him if I were 
not prepared to risk and suffer for him?" 

"Love has no such obligation," said Mrs. West mood- 
ily, and thought of her own past life. 

"I would make him prove himself for seven years— ^ 
that would test the reality of his feelings." 

"Seven years," said Mrs. West, and remembered that 
fohn Leigh had been proved for twenty. 

"Yes," said Annie; "but in his letter he says that I 
must loathe him, and so he has gone away and what can 
I do ? For I do not want to loathe him but to love him 
and to help him." 

"I do not know," said Mrs. West and then asked 
abruptly: "Are you not angry with him?" 

"Angry? No, I am sorry." 



184 



Constance West 



"] 

a* 



"Do you know that the other night when he was 
drinking here that he showed your photograph to all the 
men ; that it was handed round among them and talked 
and laughed about?" 

Annie's face went very white and she swallowed a 
sob in her throat. She made no answer. 

'Did you know that?" asked Mrs. West again. 

Why did you tell me?" asked Annie in return. 

That is nothing," said Mrs. West, "to the things you 
must endure if you marry such a man. Child, let him 

Annie turned away and stood by the window. 
Now she had no further help in tears. She stood still 
and silent and very deep in thought Mrs. West watched 
her, and wondered to find that she had been dissuading 
the girl from the marriage for which she had previously 
plotted and planned. This struck her as very curious 
and she tried to trace the steps by which it had come 
about She endeavoured to reconcile her conduct and 
could not Nor was it possible for her to do so since 
in her raged the eternal conflict between good and evil, 
and it needed all her stiff necked resolution to keep alive 
her ancient desire for revenge. She saw Annie's agony 
and it no longer seemed to her to make amends for her 
own. It occurred to her that forgiveness is always pos- 
sible, even to seventy times seven* The phrase rang in 
ber mind. 

''If," said Annie slowly; "if he is really sorry and 
proves it — ^then I will forgive him." 

"And if not?" 

"Then I will forgive him and I must always love him, 
but I will not marry him." 

'Do you know," said Mrs. West slowly; 'ithat while 

i8S 



ti^ 



Constance West 



he was drinking that night he kissed Aggie Hayes and 
swore that he loved her alone/' 

Now this was a lie that Mrs. West had made to try 
her, but Annie believed. 

"Oh, oh," she cried. Her fists clenched. Her eyes 
flashed. She cried out again in anger and bitter pain. 

"That you cannot forgive," cried Mrs. West She 
drew herself up to her full height, she raised her hands 
above her head, her words and accent were triumphant 
"Not that," she said; "no woman could." 

"It was very wrong of him," said Annie simply ; "hut 
for everything he did that night, I can and will forgive 
him — if only he proves his sorrow and himself." 

"You have no spirit," cried Mrs. West in a wild out- 
burst of anger ; "that is only cowardice, weakness, f oUy j 
why, at that rate you could forgive anything." 

'Anything," repeated Annie softly. 

Tolly 1" cried Mrs. West 

1 am afraid perhaps it is weak," said Annie, thought* 
fully ; "but you see I do love him and be must have a sec- 
ond chance." 

"I won't," cried Mrs. West; "never, never, never.*' 

And still crying "never," she ran from the room. 

"Poor woman," said Annie to herself, "she must have 
suffered terribly. Perhaps I shall, too. But at least be 
shall have another chance." 

She waited a little and when Mrs. West did not ap* 
pear she sent messages to her, for she sympathized with 
her deeply and would have comforted and helped her if 
she could. But to the first message Annie received no 
reply at all and to her second only a brusque word that 
she would not come. So presently Annie drove back to 
her father's farm; and from an upper window Mrs. 

i86 



it 

if 



Constance West 



West watched her and planned against her malign things 
and hoped that Deegan had brought about some great 
evil to John Leigh. And the softness that had touched 
her heart receded quite, and bitterness and hate swelled 
up instead and possessed her utterly. 

Yet perhaps not utterly, for now, once at least, had 
forgiveness seemed possible to ben 



X87 



CHAPTER XXI 



FOR more than an hour Mrs. West sat in the 
window of her room, looking intently down 
the trail, long after Annie had vanished from 
sight; and her anger burned furiously against 
this girl who had spoken of patience, of forgiveness. 
"Canting little humbug," she muttered; "but she will 
suffer for it" It pleased her to think of the sorrows 
and calamities that must overwhelm Annie if she did 
marry Arthur Briscoe, and beneath that imagining she 
glowed fierce with anger lest of a truth he might thereby 
be redeemed — and thus forgiveness prove a better waj 
than revenge. 

So she sat motionless till presently there was a knock 
at her door and Pierre, the little Frenchman, called to 
her that a man had come into town bringing a note f rctfa 
Deegan. 

"I shall be down in a minute," she answered aloud and 
asked herself what news that note might bring* Now 
she felt no fear, no misgiving, but only joy at the ^>- 
proaching consummation of her revenge; and ^e M% 
too, an added joy that Annie, returning to (h^ famii, 
would meet there the event of which this note brought 
the news. "Now we'll see if the girl has time to thinfc 
of redeeming her drunkard," she muttered with bitter 
scorn; "now she may find something nearer borne tP 
occupy her." 

She went quietly downstairs and on the taUc in 



i88 



Constance West 



Ceegan's little room found a note addressed to her in 
his large and painful writing* With dry eyes, her tears 
burnt away by inward fire, she opened it and read: 

'Dere Madam, 

I am here and 1 have got young Art Briscoe and dere 
Madam I am filling him that full of whisky he will be a 
fine sponge dere Madam when I am threw with him 
which will I hope meet your vewe and trusting that will 
prove satisfactory and don't you forget what I am in this 
for dere Madam Very respectfully 

Thomas Deegan*^ 

"Briscoe r cried Mrs. West as she finished; "what 
does he mean?" She read the note again and understood 
gradually that Deegan must have misunderstood her and 
have acted against Arthur Briscoe instead of against 
John Leigh« 

In silent rage she crumpled up the note and threw it 
on the floor, and then picked it up and read it again. "As 
though I cared about tiiat boy/' she muttered ; "and what 
docs he mean by 'don't you forget what I'm in this for.* ** 
She puzzled over the phrase for a moment, for already 
she had forgotten those passionate words that had meant 
§0 much to Deegan. She had uttered them in a frenzy 
of rage and had hardly thought of them again. Her 
anger against John Leigh burned so fiercely that she 
found it only natural others should hate with her; and 
knowing how Deegan resented the threatened attadc on 
his licence she supposed that to be his main motive. 

She puzzled a little, then dismissed the matter as one 
not greatly interesting her. Taking up a pen she hastily 
wrote a note to Deegan, telling him briefly that she cared 
Qothing about Briscoe, whom he had better release at 

189 



Constance West 



once. She added that Briscoe had neither injured her 
nor Deegan himself, and said finally that she would drive 
out herself the next day. By way of a postscript was 
a bitter gibe at his supposing she had referred to a 
"mere boy," and a stinging suggestion that perhaps he 
had thought it more prudent to attack a ''harmless silly 
child like Arthur Briscoe," than a man like John Leigh. 
This note finished she sat for a little thinking and then 
said aloud : "Filled with whisky, is he ? — ^like a sponge ?" 
With a malignant smile she wrote this: 

"To Miss Annie Leigh. 

If you really meant what you said, would you like to 
come to-morrow morning to Mr. Cross's place? There 
you may see things to interest you and test your sublime 
theories of forgiveness. Constance West" 

She went across to the saloon and found there the 
messenger who had brought the note from Deegan. She 
bargained with him that he should return at once and 
deliver with as little delay as possible the two letters she 
showed him. He was not very anxious to turn out again 
as it was now getting late, but she offered to pay him 
liberally and so he agreed. 

"The situation," said Mrs. West to herself as she 
watched him drive away, "when Annie meets her lover 
to-morrow will be decidedly piquant. We will see if she 
prates of forgiveness then." 

Though Mrs. West had paid her messenger liberally, 
his horse was very tired and the trails were bad and 
awkward to find in the darkness that soon eame on. The 
distance was considerable, too, and though he persevered 
for some time he finally, on reaching the house of a friend, 
determined to wait there for the morning light So it 



190 



Constance West 



happened that it was not till breakfast time that Deegan 
got his note, and not till some time later did Annie re- 
ceive hers. 

"Who's this from?" said Deegan, suspiciously, as the 
note was handed to him. 

"It's from Mrs. West up at your place," answered the 
messenger. "So long. I must clear. I oughter've 
brought you that last night ; only the trail was so amazin' 
bad I stopped at Halliday's." 

He nodded and drove away to deliver his second note 
and Deegan stood looking with strange emotions at this 
letter from Mrs. West, the first he had ever had from 
any woman except on business matters. He held out the 
little note on his open palm and looked at it with softened 
eyes. He glanced round over the broad prairies that 
lay in the morning sunshine, quite deserted save for the 
rapidly receding figure of the messenger. All about him 
lay the new lands, empty now but so full of the possi- 
bilities of nations yet to be ; and in his hand a little note 
that stirred in him emotions hitherto unfelt. There was 
no one to see, but he stepped behind an open stable door 
and there pressed the note to his lips. 

"I'll kiss her next — ^again," he said fiercely, and thrilled 
with the anticipation. For a little longer he dreamed 
and then it occurred to him that he had better open and 
read. Twice over he read the brief contemptuous sen- 
tences ; and he understood his blundering and that he had 
earned not gratitude but scorn. With a bellow of in- 
articulate rage he ran into the stable, dragged out his 
reluctant horses that had not yet finished their morning 
feed, and began hastily to harness them to his buggy. 
^Curse the luck/' he muttered at intervals ; and then. 



Ui 



191 



Constance West 



rib 



"but I'll fix him now, sure thing. Gosh; yes. Til fix 
him." 

He had no settled plan in his mind for he was too 
disturbed to think coherently. He knew only that he 
must find John Leigh immediately and inflict upon him at 
once the revenge that Mrs. West desired; at one blow 
satisfying his old animosity and earning the reward she 
had promised him. 

"ni whip him; sure as shootin', 111—111—" he mut- 
tered on to himself as he harnessed the horses, but he 
did not finish the sentence. Soon he was ready, and 
he was about to start when he remembered that as yet 
he had had no breakfast John Leigh was likely to be a 
stout antagonist, and Deegan knew he was undertaking 
no holiday task, so, though reluctantly, he ran into the 
bouse. He had made a bannock the day before and half 
of this he now pushed into his podcet There was a pot 
of cold tea standing on the table and from that he 
snatched a hasty drink. His eye fell upon the nailed-up 
door and he remembered that he could hardly leave Bris- 
coe prisoner there. "Oh, let him stay and rot,'* he said 
impatiently and moved away. Then he remembered that 
Mrs. West had told him to release the lad. He hesitated 
for a moment, consumed with impatience to be off, and 
cursed aloud Cross, who lay in his bunk in a drunken 
stupor. But Mrs. West's expressed desire and a fear 
that he might be away some time and mischief happen 
to Briscoe if he were not released, decided Deegan that 
he could not leave him. Swearing at the delay he began 
to tug at the planks that had been spiked across the door 
to make Briscoe's prison secure. The planks were heavy 
and carefully fastened and Deegan found he could not 
move them. He ran outside for an axe, wherewith he 

192 



Constance West 



it 



attacked them furiously, using every exertion to get the 
door free as soon as possible. 

For the past three days Briscoe had been kept in this 
inner room that was hollowed out from the side of the 
little hill. A small square hole had been cut in the top 
of the door and through this with curses at his obstinacy 
his food had been dropped daily; and true to their ex- 
pressed intention every morsel was tainted with whisky* 
To both Deegan and Cross this had seemed an excellent 
and assured plan of accustoming the recalcitrant Briscoe 
to the taste and finally breaking down his resistance. 
He must eat and drink/' said Deegan with chuckles ; 
and he'll get that used to whisky he'll take to it like a 
calf takes to milk. And so he shall if he has to stop there 
a month." 

Then Cross would nod in drunken agreement and 
shout to Briscoe to come out and have a drink and curse 
him for a sulky fool when there was no answer. 

"It only wants time," Deegan would then repeat with 
easy confidence. "He ain't gettin' a thing but whisky 
and it's bound to soak him through and through. He'll 
be shoutin' for it presently." 

And meantime Briscoe, confined within his dark 
prison, the air heavy with the scent of the spirit the two 
men outside were always drinking, and the same hor- 
rible taint in everything they passed through to him, 
grew to loathe both taste and smell as something in- 
describably disgusting, and to regard the idea of drink- 
ing it as physically sickening. Sitting thus all day in 
darkness and solitude he thought much of Annie and 
wondered if perhaps, some day, in the years to come, she 
might not forgive him — after he had proved himself. 



193 N 



Constance West 



Always, whether he sat and thought or paced the room 
in futile searching for a way to escape, always, in the 
food that he could not eat, in the drink that he could not 
swallow, and in the air that he must breathe, continually 
lay the same horrid taint till he thought that surely be 
must die from sheer disgust at it 

''Ugh,'' he said with sick shivers as he tried, impelled 
by ravening hunger, to eat a piece of bread that he 
could not swallow for the same all-pervading loathsome 
taste ; ''to think I actually liked that unutterably beastly 
stuff." 

Unable to eat in spite of his sick hunger he threw the 
bit of bread into a comer and then started up, quick with 
joy, as he heard the blows of Deegan's axe thundering 
on the door that confined him. 

"Rescue," he cried in wild excitement 

Climbing on a box he peered through a little open- 
ing in the top of the door and saw to his infinite surprise 
that it was Deegan who was, with every appearance of 
eagerness, labouring to release him. Briscoe stood down 
again and as he listened to the eager blows thundering 
on the door, he considered within himself what this 
might mean. He decided that at last Deegan's patience 
had broken down and that he was abandoning his slow 
and absurd method of familiarizing his prisoner with the 
taste of whisky for some more rational process. 

"They'll try to pour it down again," he muttered, and 
his hands tightened and he looked about him for some 
weapon. 

But his two gaolers had been careful to clear the room 
of anything that might have proved useful to him, and 
he could find nothing. He was conscious, too, that his 



194 



Constance West 



strength had greatly decreased during these three days 
of captivity. None the less he braced his muscles for an 
.effort and when presently the blows ceased as the last 
of the planks came down and then the door itself swung 
open, he spoke no word but sprang straight at Deegan's 
throat 

"Hands off," shouted the saloon-keeper and received a 
blow full on the mouth. "Quit, you little fool," he cried 
and swung his axe. 

But Briscoe, excited, reckless and dreading worse than 
death further attempts to force drink upon him, still 
attacked him furiously, twice striking him heavy blows. 
Deegan endeavoured to disengage himself but could not ; 
another blow struck him so shrewdly that he staggered 
and nearly lost his balance. He was wild with im- 
patience to get away, Briscoe's furious attack was press- 
ing him severely, and the lad's excitement and ceaseless 
blows gave little opportunity for any explanation. 

"Keep clear," he cried, and then, as Briscoe closed 
desperately upon him, now still more excited by hope of 
victory, Deegan swung up his axe and struck down his 
adversary with a heavy blow upon the head. He fell in the 
doorway across the splintered wood that had held him 
prisoner, and lay there motionless. With an oath Deegan 
flung the axe beside him* 

"I didn't want to," he cried as he ran from the house 
to where his horses waited ; "but, Gosh, I just had to. I 
hope he ain't dead." 

He sprang into his buggy and drove furiously away 
towards John Leigh's farm. At first he drove in silence, 
caring only to obtain the highest possible speed from his 
horses, but presently he began to mutter to himself. 



I9S 



Constance West 



*'If that young fool's dead/* he muttered; "her and 
me'Il have to skip out over the boundary to the States. 
Even if— even if there ain't nothin' else by night. God 
in Heaven, I'm payin' for her. She's worth it though." 



196 



'*■'''.>:•. ...,-*• 



CHAPTER XXII 



BEFORE daybreak that same morning, after a 
night even more than usually restless, Mrs, 
West rose and went down to the stable. Since 
her arrival in Big End she had learned to do 
many things that previously had been sealed mysteries 
to her, and now she had little difficulty in harnessing a 
pony for herself. She left a note on the kitchen table 
bidding Pierre do the best he could with the meals, and 
then drove swiftly away over the broad prairies in the 
cold, strong air of the morning, that though it made her 
shiver yet helped to check the fever in her brain. 

She .drove on swiftly, her eyes fixed straight in front 
of her, seeing nothing that she passed by, utterly heed- 
less of the glowing dawn that r^se to greet her, ere 
she had gone half way. But she went a little faster now 
that the light was better, and presently she drove through 
the gap in the fence into the space before Cross's shanty. 
She hitched her pony to a post and wondered at the 
quiet and deserted air that hung over the little farm. In 
spite of the barking and indignant dogs that protested 
loudly at her intrusion, she walked up to the house. 
Without hesitation she opened the door and went in, 
and saw there the two men lying, and all about the floor 
the empty jars of whisky. Cross lay breathing heavily in 
his bunk, Briscoe, still unconscious, in the doorway of 
the inner room ; and Mrs. West quite naturally included 
them both in one scornful condemnation. 

197 



Constance West 



"But where can Deegan have gone?" she said in some 
surprise as she went out again, carefully closing the door 
behind her. 

She stood watching, wondering what the absence of 
Deegan might mean, and presently she saw some one ap- 
proaching in the distance. She wondered whether this 
would be Deegan or Annie, and presently made out that 
it was the girl, coming in answer to her summons. She 
watched her approach with a faint yet malign smile. 

"Now we shall see," she said aloud, "how theories of 
forgiveness hold." 

The moment Annie drove up she sprang to the ground 
and ran forward without stopping to fasten up her horse. 

"Oh, this is good of you," she exclaimed and tried to 
kiss Mrs. West, but found herself repulsed with a quick 
gesture. "Why, what is the matter?" she asked, sur- 
prised and hurt. 

Tou got my note, then?" 

'Yes, but what did it mean? It seemed — ^seemed—'* 
Annie was evidently at a loss for a word and went on 
abruptly : "I started immediately I got it" 

"Did you?" said Mrs. West, indifferently, and added 
with equal indifference, "Did you happen to sec Mr. 
Deegan or — " 

"Why, yes ; I passed him going towards our place. He 
looked funny, upset about something, and I don't believe 
he even saw me." 

"He looked — funny? Was he driving fast?" 

"As fast as fast," said Annie. "Why, is anything 
wrong ?" 

"Not that I know of," replied Mrs. West, but her voice 
was low and sombre, for she wondered greatly why 

198 






Constance West 



it 






Deegan drove so fast, and why he had gone without 
waiting to see her. "I think I must go/* she said, and 
moved quickly towards her buggy. 

Oh, but," cried Annie, following her in some dismay, 
what is it? Why did you send for me? Is anything 
wrong? Why should you hurry?" 

"Why should I hurry?" repeated Mrs. West and 
seemed to meditate upon the point "I am sure I don't 
know," she said presently as though reaching a decision. 
"I will wait." 

That is very nice of you," said Annie heartily. 
Oh, very nice," agreed Mrs. West "Is your father 
at home?" 

"No, he went to Heddle's with a load of oats this morn- 
ing, and both the men are teaming potatoes to town. 
Did Mr. Deegan want to see him?" 

"To Heddle's," said Mrs. West with an almost invol- 
tmtary look of relief on her face. "Then Mr. Deegan 
will have to wait." 

"But why did you send for me here? And what did 
your note mean?" 

Mrs. West looked at her without answering, and there 
were many thoughts in her mind. She did nbt speak and 
presently Annie touched her timidly on the arm. 

"I fear you are in great trouble," she said gently. **I 
am so very, very sorry for you." 

"Are you?" said Mrs. West "Really?" It seemed 
for just one moment as though her stem and fixed ex- 
pression relaxed a little. "Yet you have sorrow of your 
own ?" 

"Yes," said Annie ; "that is why I am sorry for you." 

"A foolish baby reason," said Mrs. West, and her face 



199 



Comtance West 



hardened once more, daric again with sombre threaten- 
ing. You won't be long sorry for me. Go and look in 
the house." 

"The house/' repeated Annie, with a little startled 
glance at the building. She looked round her and to her 
accustomed eyes there seemed now a suggestion of some- 
thing wrong, of something unusual about the place. 
Even the dogs seemed quiet and uneasy, and already they 
had ceased to protest against the appearance of the 
strangers, whom now they watched as though glad of 
their company. Near by two pigs were squealing rest- 
lessly as though they had not been fed lately, and the 
stable door hung carelessly open. "What is there in the 
house?" she asked, and in her sad eyes fear rose behind 
the sorrow. 

"Go and see," said Mrs. West abruptly. 

She remembered how years before so she had gone 
fearfully into a room and found there what Annie would 
find here. She remembered, too, her bitter indignation 
and the biting words and reproaches she had used, how 
contemptuous had been her refusal of help or sympathy, 
and how she had seen with pleasure her reproaches in- 
creasing his remorse. There was perhaps a certain curi- 
osity in her mind as she watched Annie go with slow 
steps and stand in hesitation before the door. 

"Why don't you go in?" said Mrs. West, and there 
was a sneer in her tone. 

Annie looked round in a startled way, for that was 
the first time she had been conscious of any suggestion 
of hostility in the older woman's manner. Without 
answering she lifted the latch, but stood for a moment 
on the threshold still hesitating. Then she opened the 



200 






Constance West 



door and went in — and the strong odour of the whisky 
caught her and made her gasp for breath. 

"Oh, oh," she cried in misery, for in that pungent 
odour she realized her worst fears. 

"Go in," said Mrs, West, harshly, and Annie locked 
at her in pathetic surprise, but with mingled fear and re- 
sentment, too. Then she went inside and Mrs. West fol« 
lowed her to the doorway. 

"That is Jim Cross," cried Annie excitedly as she 
recognized the senseless figure lying on the bunk. It 
was as though a note of challenge sounded in her voice. 

"And that?" said Mrs. West, and pointed to the door- 
way of the inner room. It was as though she heard the 
challenge and accepted it 

"Oh," said Annie, softly ; "it is he, it is he." And the 
hopeless sorrow in her voice touched even Mrs. West- 
reached even to her excited brain, bewildered with the 
intensity of one idea. 

"You are not the only one, many of us women suffer 
thus," she said, and hearing her, Annie forgot the sus- 
picion and resentment of the last few moments and took 
her hand in her own. 

Hand in hand the two women stood, gazing at the 
unconscious form that lay in the shadow of the doorway. 
Annie's eyes were tearless and in after years she thought 
of that moment with shuddering and knew that she had 
not escaped her share of human suffering. 

Presently she released her hand and moved forward. 

"Where are you going?" cried Mrs. West, and put a 
detaining touch on her shoulder. 

'Only to try — just to try and make him a little more — 



tti 



20I 



Constance West 



a little less uncomfortable/' answered Annie, hesitatingly. 
''Look how his head hangs down/' 

"Can you touch him — can you bear to touch him?" 
cried Mrs. West with utter disgust in every syllable. 

"I — ^think so/' answered Annie. "Yes, I loved him." 

"Loved him? But now?" 

"I love him still, or what I thought he was — what he 
really is in better moments." 

"You will be forgiving him next/' cried Mrs. West 
with bitterest scorn. "Oh, forgive him," she cried 
again and laughed horridly. 

Annie turned and looked at her with large serious 
eyes. 

"I will never marry him," she said presently, "if that 
is what you mean. But I forgive him freely." 

"Why don't you hate him?" asked Mrs. West, and her 
voice dropped suddenly to a low whisper. "Think of the 
pain he has caused you ; think of him skulking here when 
you thought him on the Pacific coast ; think of him drink- 
ing here when you thought he was repenting in exile; 
think of the disgrace. Think of how the women will talk 
of you and point at you, engaged to a drunkard. Hate 
him, I say ; hate him." 

"Oh, poor Arthur," answered Annie ; "hate him when 
I would die to helphim? Oh, if I could die." 

All her hidden agony broke out in that despairing wail, 
but Mrs. West heeded it not, walking to and fro with 
short and hurrying steps. 

"You see/' said Annie, recovering herself a little ; "he 
is so sorry, too." 

"You have pap in your veins, not blood," said Mrs. 
West contemptuously. "You are but a poor thing/' 

1 daresay," said Annie, who still stood with clasped 



«i 



202 



Constance West 



hands and tearless eyes, "I wouldn't care what I was if 
I could help him." 

"Marry him then; oh, go and marry him. And take 
his drunken abuse and his blows and thank him and lick 
his hands and cry out that you are so sorry for him. 
He will throw you a word sometimes when he is sober 
and then you will fall down and kiss his feet and people 
will call you a dutiful wife." 

''I said I would not marry him,** said Annie; "and I 
mean it" 

•'Then hate him," shrieked Mrs. West 

She stopped in her restless walk and they faced each 
other. The older woman made little convulsive move- 
ments with her hands and her look was as a fiery blaze, 
charged with the inward flame that consumed her. Annie 
watched her with sad and melancholy eyes that never 
dropped or faltered before the other's fury. 

"The good God knows how I suffer," said Annie 
softly, "to see the man I love fall so terribly; but it 
would be worse if I hated him for it. We are all of us 
so poor and weak, you know." Her voice grew softer 
yet She took Mrs. West's hand again and tried to slip 
her other arm round her waist "And you," she said; 
"I fear you have suffered terribly, been greatly wronged. 
Try to forget, to forgive — " 

"I won't," shrieked Mrs. West and wrenched herself 
free and with her open hand she struck Annie on the 
cheek so that a red mark flamed up. "I won't," she 
cried and ran out of the shanty towards her buggy. "I'm 
not a weak sentimental baby fool." Suddenly she turned 
and threw a threat in low tones across her shoulder. 
"You shall see," she said, "how I forgive such things. 
Now go and cry over your drunkard." 

203 



Cofutance West 



"Oh, don't," exclaimed Annie with shrinking pain at 
the epithet "Oh, Arthur, Arthur," she moaned and 
slowly went back to him with shuddering and reluctance. 
"How could you when I loved you so?" she murmured 
as she stooped, meaning to lift the unconscious body to a 
more easy positioiu 

Now that she was nearer she looked at the face in a 
puzzled way, for it was very white and the breathing was 
quiety almost imperceptible,* not noisy and laboured* 
She sprang to her feet and ran to Cross, looked at him 
intently and then back to Briscoe. "He looks very dif- 
ferent," she murmured in a puzzled tone, contrasting him 
with Cross, flushed and heavy. "He looks ill, can he be 
ill?" There was a dawning of a hope in her words ; she 
stooped down more closely and now she saw the blood- 
stain on the broken planks. Then loud rose her cry of 
joy as she felt eagerly and found the deep raw cut where 
Deegan's axe had bitten to the bone. 

"He's hurt, he's hurt," she cried "Oh, thank God 
for that" 



.204 



CHAPTER XXIII 



MEANWHILE Mrs. West drove fast towards 
the Leigh farm. As yet very little land in 
this part of the country was taken up, and 
though the distance was considerable, she 
passed no human habitation. She did not know the way 
but she had a general idea of the direction ; and though 
the trail was faint and indistinct she drove on without 
hesitation. Once or twice she noticed on the ground 
signs that showed another buggy had recently preceded 
her, and this she accepted as proof that Deegan had 
travelled by the same trail. And presently she saw an- 
other sign, for at a little distance before her there rose 
up against the bright blue of the cloudless sky a tiny 
trail of white smoke ; faint and delicate and ominous. 

"That is Deegan,*' she said softly and stopped to 
watch this little column of white and rising smoke that 
was indeed barely visible. "It is good," she said pres- 
ently and drove on though with less speed. Her teeth 
were clenched and her whole appearance strangely fixed 
and resolute, even the very reins she seemed to hold with 
an increased determination; it was as though she were 
braced for some great resistance. 

Soon she came to a clump of trees, a poplar bluff, 
and in this shelter she drew up. Before her lay the 
farm. In front were the buildings; large and substan- 
tial, evidence of years of strenuous and successful toil. 
Behind these was an expanse of recent ploughing, and in 



205 



Comtance We9t 



this, in two separate clusters, stcx)d the wheat stacks, 
ready for the thrashers. Twelve stacks there were in the 
one group and fourteen in the other, all large and gener- 
ous, gladdening to the heart of the farmer. A short dis* 
tance further on stood the half dozen smaller stacks of the 
oat crop. Near the house, adjoining the stable, were 
the hay ricks, and in the yard itself ranged beneath a shed 
was the farming machinery. Except for the hens that 
were busily searching for grain on the nearest piece of 
stubble there was no sign of life; and the whole pros- 
perous farm drowsed in the sunshine, calm and peaceful, 
apparently beyond the reach of harm. 

But even as Mrs. West looked she saw smoke rising 
very faintly indeed, but from several different points. 
From the furthest group of stacks there was as yet hard- 
ly any at all; the oat stacks, too, where the straw was 
greener and more loath to bum, seemed so far un- 
touched ; but from the nearer group the smoke rose dark 
and threatening and already shot with leaping flames. 
Mrs. West turned to look at the farm buildings them- 
selves and saw there also rising smoke, and from the 
window of the house a sudden flame thrust out like a 
threatening arm and reached up towards the roof. 

'That is his house," she said and beat her hands to- 
gether softly. "All this he made from the bare land 
and soon it will be ashes and desolate again." 

She watched in fascination and now she saw the figure 
of a man running to and fro in the farm yard, and 
wherever he passed he left behind him rising smoke 
and little yellow flames* From the stable he ran to the 
granary, from the granary to the next building, and then 
as though impatient ran fast to the house again — and 

206 



Constance West 



still whatever place he left, smoke and little flames 
stayed there behind. 

"It took John twenty years," muttered Mrs. West, "and 
Deegan will destroy it all in twenty hours. But it is 
just that he should suffer." 

Now the fire had secured firm hold upon one stack and 
from it rose smoke in a thick column, dark and high. 
Mrs. West looked abroad over the wide prairie, wonder- 
ing that all the country side did not flock to that dread 
signal. But all was empty and solitary with no hint of 
help. Then far down the trail a tiny dot moved and grew 
till she saw it a wagon thundering on, and presently could 
see in it a man standing upright and urging on his 
horses. She saw how the clumsy Vehicle bounced and 
jumped on the rough track as though in vehement pro- 
test against the unaccustomed speed, and she wondered 
in an abstract uninterested way whether it would upset 
or not. At the same time she saw the first man run from 
the farm at speed, as though suddenly alarmed, and fling 
himself into his v/aiting buggy. Behind him smoke and 
little crawling flames were everywhere, but he never 
looked back ; standing like the other man upright on the 
swaying vehicle and frantically urging his horses to the 
gallop. Mrs. West sat motionless beneath the poplars, 
holding her face between her hands, watching with im- 
partial looks the two men that drove so furiously; one 
to the flames and one away. The whole scene had to her 
something of the quality of a dream; and behind her 
steadfast gaze her brain wandered busily amidst small 
remembered incidents of the long ago. 

He will be too late to save anything," she said aloud. 
It is John, my John," she added as the figure became 
more distinct. 

207 






Constance West 



Rapidly John Leigh drew nearer to his burning home ; 
his wagon came thunderously bounding on the rough 
track and the horses lay to their work as though they 
understood the desperate need. He drove straight into 
the yard and Mrs. West watched with extorted wonder 
while he did miracles before her eyes. For with such 
speed he ran about the yard that he outpaced even the 
swift and hungry flames themselves. With the one ef- 
fort it seemed that he threw from house and granary the 
straw that had been piled to start the fires ; and almost at 
the same time he ran in the stables, smothering there also 
the little growing flames. To and fro he went; quicker 
to save than the other had been to destroy, and strangled 
in its birth the demon that once grown had wrought such 
wide, appalling ruin. 

Next she saw him with prodigious effort lift bodily a 
water barrel into his wagon and then another ; and then 
from the house bring out a pile of blankets. These also 
he tossed into the wagon and turned the horses' heads 
towards the burning stacks. Mrs. West looked at them, 
burning ihdeed, but not yet thoroughly alight, for Deegan 
had only set fire to two in each g^oup, trusting that the 
flames would quickly spread to the reaft It seemed to 
her possible that he might yet save them also. 

She walked from the shelter of the poplars and stood 
out in the open prairie. 

She saw him run back to the house and then back 
again, burdened with another huge pile of blankets and 
saw him leap encumbered as he was clear on to the wagon. 
She saw him with one motion drop the blankets he held 
and seize whip and reins — ^and then she saw that he had 
noticed her for he remained in the same attitude, motion- 
less, with all his swift speed frozen. Thus he stood, bend- 

208 



Constance West 



ing forward in the same position, the horses with cocked 
and twitching ears waiting for the word that never came ; 
and she stood equally stilly sombre and motionless in the 
bright sunshine. 

At last he descended and came slowly towards her, 
and her glance never wavered as she watched him come 
till he stood opposite. 

"Connie/* he said, whispered rather, and repeated the 
name twice. "Connie, Connie." 

She did not answer and presently he spoke again. 

"Is that — ?" he asked, and turned to glance at the fires 
behind. "Is that— ?" 

"Yes," she answered, divining that he questioned 
whether it was her doing. 

He sat down on the grass at her feet and began to 
play with the lash of the whip he still held. He did not 
look at her nor she at him. Both watched intently the 
scene before them. From the stacks now rose singly 
columns of smoke that above united in one huge pall; 
giant signal of distress and warning for miles around; 
so dark and vast it was that even it seemed to blot out the 
sun itself at noon. From each blazing stack sparks fell 
abroad, and as the two spectators watched, first one great 
tongue of fire leaped up and then another. Up the sides 
of the other stacks, too, little flames were creeping now, 
climbing from each tier of sheaves to the one above, and 
at last dancing gleefully on the topmost of all. Always 
the showering sparks fell around and alighted continually 
upon the house and buildings that had been so barely 
saved before. Ever the fires increased in fury so that the 
smoke grew less dense and the flames vaster and more 
general ; each roaring up towards the sky as though am- 
bitious to lick the very floor of heaven. Even the green 

209 o 



Comtance West 



oat stacks were burning now, smouldering sullenly be- 
neath huge clouds of smoke. 

"It bums well/' she said at last with a swift glance at 
* the sUent man at her feet 

' "lA should," he answered. "It is the work of twenty 
years.V 

"Then why don't you try to save it ?" she asked, "You 
bjfijjan well/' 

*'Tle nodded twice in grave agreement She looked at 
him curiously. 

"Well?" she asked again with bitterness in every tone. 
"Why don't you?" 

"Because — " he began and then stopped. "Oh, you 
know/' he said and lapsed into silence. 

She raised her hand to her mouth and bit it savagely 
till the blood came, salt on her lips. 

"It will ruin you/' she cried, "and I am glad," 

He nodded again but made no other answer. He did 
not look at her nor she at him. 

"Even yet," she suggested, "you could save some- 
thing." 

"Oh, yes," he answered and looked carefully. "Nearly 
half, I should say." 

"Then why are you sitting still?" There was a taunt 
in her voice and yet the subtle suggestion of some uneasy 
feeling, too. "Are you afraid ?" she asked suddenly ; and 
indeed his behaviour puzzled her a little. 

"Afraid?" he repeated and the question did not even 
amuse him. "Tell me you wish it and I will save — ^yes, I 
will save quite half." 

"I tell you I wish— nothing," she answered. 

He picked off a straw that had clung to his arm and 
began to bite the end. She watched the increasing flames. 



210 



Constance West 



"Oh, Connie/' he cried suddenly; "do you remember 
the gate in the lane at home where I kissed you first?'* 

"No," she answered ; "I have forgotten." 

"I do not think that is true," he said presently, 

"I have forgotten," she repeated. 

Together they watched the fires increasing, raging, 
roaring. Two stacks in each group were almost in ashes 
now and all were alight, some blazing and some with 
flames just beginning to grow upon their sides. It seemed 
that the stacks broke into flames as a tree breaks into 
blossom in the spring. 

"The oat stacks will go next," she said. 

"Yes," he agreed, "the oat stacks will go next" 

He began to draw lines on the ground with the butt 
of his whip ; and she watched him with a kind of sullen, 
baflled curiosity, with constant glances towards the fires. 

"Look," she said suddenly ; "you did not do such won- 
ders after all. The fire in the house is breaking out 
again." 

"It is the sparks from the stacks," he answered ; "the 
granary and other buildings will catch soon." 

"Are you not sorry," she cried, "to see your own place 
in flames?" 

"Yes," he answered simply ; "but if it pleases you, it is 
well" 

"I suppose you mean you have it assured?" 

"As a matter of fact," he answered slowly, "it is as- 
sured — ^well assured." 
"I thought so," she sneered. 

'Against accident," he added gently. 

1 swore to ruin you — to make you pay," she cried as 
though defending herself. 

'You have ruined me, I suppose," he answered; "so 

211 



*r 
Ot 



Constance West 



far as that goes. There is twenty years of work and all 
that I possess going up in that fire." 

"I am glad." 

"I am only sorry there is not more," he cried passion- 
ately. "My life were little if it pleasured you." 

"Oh, you talk," she sneered. 

Suddenly she turned upon him, her face contorted with 
malice. She put up one hand and covered her right eye, 
leaving the blind one free. "Now," she said, her mouth 
twisted sideways with a grin that bared her teeth and 
showed like an angry vicious snarl, "now I can see noth- 
ing, no fire." With a kind of sneering patience she moved 
her head slowly from side to side. "There is no fire," 
she said again. "At least, I cannot see it — ^nor you — ^nor 
anything." 

His face went very white; a g^ey white and ghastly. 
With a swift movement he raised the hem of her skirt 
and brushed it with his lips. He dropped it and when 
she moved her hand and looked again he sat as before, 
impassive and immobile. 

They became silent and presently she sat down on the 
grass beside him. The flames roared on, the sparks set 
fire as he had prophesied to the buildings he had so barely 
saved, and soon there remained nothing on the farm that 
was not wrapped in flame. Side by side they sat and 
watched. Once he moved to attend to his own horses and 
to hers, but he was soon back and sat down again with- 
out speaking. Once Mrs. West turned to him and said : 
The neighbours; will none come?" 
'You need not fear that," he answered. "Even if they 
see it, they will think it an ordinary prairie fire and be 
busy with their own precautions. Some one may come 






212 



Constance West 



to-morrow to investigate perhaps, but then it will be too 
late." 

"That is all right, then," she answered, but in spite of 
her words a trace of hidden disappointment might have 
been found in her voice. 

The hours passed ; the fires began to grow dull for lack 
of further fuel; the sun moved steadily on towards his 
setting; and still the two sat there side by side, silent, mo- 
tionless, sombre. There was only a gentle breeze blowing, 
so there was little fear of the fire spreading, especially as 
most of the ground in the vicinity had been freshly 
ploughed. 

"See," said Leigh presently, "the roof of the house has 
fallen in. I handled every log," he added with a little 
sigh. 

She made no answer and presently he said again : 

"The granary has gone now. I lived there while the 
house was building. Did you know that last year's grain 
was in it still ?" 

"That is good news," she answered, but very gloomily. 

Again they fell into silence and the unheeded hours 
passed on. Once again it was necessary for Leigh to 
move to attend to the horses. The sun went down in 
glory and the night came swiftly up. The declining fires 
seemed to gain a new energy in the darkness, wherein they 
shone with so increased a brightness. But their first 
energy of destruction was now passed, though still flames 
and smoke ascended from stacks and ricks and buildings. 
Where that morning had stood a prosperous farm there 
how remained but ashes and hot fires and ever rising 
smoke. The astonished poultry, seeing their world disap- 
pear, had found for themselves with much cackling un- 



213 



Constance West 



easy roosts among some young trees. The cattle lay on the 
pasture placidly chewing the cud, yet clustered near the 
gate whereby they were usually brought home. Half a 
dozen pigs, nosing the burning grain, rooted with many 
squeals near the granaries and alone in the scene of deso- 
lation showed sign of life or energy. Near the poplar 
bluff the two spectators sat side by side as they had sat 
all day. 

"It is finished," said the man suddenly, turning to her. 
"Dear Connie," he said tenderly and laid his hand on hers. 

"How dare you call me that?" she shrieked and sprang 
away in sudden panic 

"Dear Connie," he said again in slow, lingering tones, 
as though the words were pleasant on his lips. "Dear, 
dear Connie." 

"I have ruined you," she cried out loudly and her look 
was wild and staring. She glanced over her shoulder as ^ 
though she contemplated flight. 

"Dear Connie," he said again and looked at her with 
love shining in his eyes. 

"But — ^but " she exclaimed quickly, her breath com- 
ing in short gasps. "Don't you know I 'have ruined 
you ?" she exclaimed, as though reminding him of some* 
thing he might have forgotten. She continued with a 
strong effort at composure, "Look at the fire and see how 
I hate you." 

"And I love you," he answered. "Oh, Connie, I have 
waited for long, for very long. Not once have I slept or 
risen all through these years without remembering again 
what I did to you. Connie, I saw you lie at my feet, 
struck by my hand, and so I have seen you ever since, un- 
conscious with a little drop of blood just where my kisses 

214 



Constance West 



had been once." He rose to his feet and held up his 
clenched hands. "Not the Almighty Himself," he said, 
"could punish me more than my own thoughts. Hell 
would be welcome if it burned out that memory." 

He began to walk up and down, trying to conquer his 
emotion, and she watched him, hanging on his words. 

"I could never have dared to seek you," he said, "but 
you have come to me." 

"For revenge," she whispered, as if in explanation, but 
he waved the word aside. 

"Revenge you have had in more suffering than any you 
could inflict. Revenge," he repeated with a kind of won- 
der. "Why, revenge is childish." He looked away 
towards the fires. The night had come and they only saw 
each other by the flicker of the flames that now died down 
for lack of food and now leaped up again on finding some 
new sustenance, some new thing to destroy. He looked 
at the flames as she bade him and then back to her, smiling 
tolerantly as one smiles at some naughtiness of a spoilt 
and favourite child. "Why, Connie dear, if it had been to 
give you pleasure I would have set a match to it any time 
these twenty years." 

They both grew silent again. She was oppressed with 
a sense of futility and he was confused with conflicting im- 
pressions. He came nearer to her and spoke with a sudden 
air of confidence, of mastery. 

"Connie," he said, "now you have brought us nearer 
again. Before we were so far apart, it seemed so hope- 
less, there was nothing I could do. I felt that the advance 
must come, if it ever did, from you ; that I could do abso- 
lutely nothing—- 



:iy nomm g 



Nothing," she cried, and suddenly she turned upon 

215 



Conitance West 



him fiercely and all in one moment it seemed that he was 
again the unforgiven outcast, and she the indignant, the 
importunate for justice. Involuntarily he drew back. 
She cried out: "False and treacherous, there was some- 
thing you could do and that you did. You consoled your- 
self, you forgot me, you did not care." 

She ran from him, still crying with a low wail : "You 
did not care, you did not care." She found her buggy 
and climbed in, ready to start He stood where she had 
left him, and dared make no effort to keep her. She 
struck her horse with her whip and as she passed out into 
the darkness of the night she saw him still standing,, up- 
right and motionless, his head hanging forward on his 
breast. 

She drove fast and recklessly through the night, trust- 
ing chiefly to her horse to take her back to town. Once 
she spoke aloud as though arguing with some one unseen. 

"It is different with Annie," she said. " I could forgive 
other things easily, just as she does. That is nothing, 
absolutely nothing. But that he could put another in my 
place, no woman could forgive that Nor I." She re- 
peated the last two words several times as she drove 
on through the utter darkness of the lonely land that 
showed nowhere any faintest sign of light 



J 

V 



3l6 



CHAPTER XXIV 



AT last Mrs. West's tired horse brought her to 
the little town, long wrapped in slumber, and 
stood still with drooping head outside the 
stable. Mrs. West herself felt no weariness 
and she got down briskly to open the door. She soon 
found a lantern and by its dim rays as it hung on the nail 
where she placed it, she unharnessed the horse and led it 
to its stall. 

For a moment or two she stood watching the row of 
horses which, disturbed by her entry, were moving, and 
some turning dieir heads to look at her. The soft champ- 
ing of her own pony as it ate eagerly of the hay before 
it came with a peaceful sound to her ears, and the warm 
smell of the stable was welcome after the chill sharpness 
of the night air. With peculiar distinctness a vision came 
to her of the man she had left, brooding and solitary by 
the side of his ruined farm. She wondered whether he 
would have stood so if she had tried to comfort him, and 
suddenly she thrilled to fed within herself the sweet power 
to charm away his misery. 

"After all," she thought, "he is sorry — ^if I did forgi^ 
but it is not possible. Still if I did — if I " 



And even as these disconnected thoughts invaded her 
mind and were not banished, a shadow came swiftly in 
the darkness across the yard and Deegan's voice said in 
a low tone : 

317 



Constance West 



"Is it you ? I have waited so long till I saw the light 
and guessed you were back." 

He came in and stood by the lantern so that its radiance 
fell full upon his face. Mrs. West did not answer, but 
a sudden sense of abhorrence seized her, for was not this 
the man that had fired the farm? His face was flushed 
and his eyes very bright, and they rested on her with a 
new expression that she saw but did not understand, yet 
that she felt increased her abhorrence. She thought he 
must have been drinking, as indeed he had, though the 
spirit he had taken had not affected him in the least 

He did not speak, but his eyes still rested on her, 
except when now and then he would glance rapidly over 
his shoulder to see that all was still quiet. 

She stood passively, for there was about him an air that 
somehow daunted her, because there was in it some subtle 
suggestion of companionship, of familiarity. He held out 
his hand to her and she shrank back quickly. 

"Come," he said softly ; "come, dear." 

He spoke the last word rustily, with obvious effort, yet 
it appalled her as no threat or abuse could have done. 
She did not answer. He continued : 

"Everjrthing is ready. I have fixed up everything." 

"Ready?" she repeated, trying to gain time. "What 
for?" 

"To skip," he said simply. "After to-day's job we've 
got to get out." 

She drew back by imperceptible degrees as he spoke 
until she was to him but a dim shadow in the semi-dark- 
ness of the stable. As she drew back he began to follow, 
large and threatening to her fancy as his body showed 
black against the light of the lantern by the stable door. 

^i8 



Constance West 



"What's on now ?" he asked with quick suspicion in his 
tone. "Don't you know what I've done? We must 
clear or them flaming police will be after us. Don't you 
know I done accordin' as you said?'^ 

"As I said ?" she cried. "Why, I never told you to do 
that. Do you know he is ruined — absolutely ruined?" 

"Ain't that what you was after?" 

"No, no," she answered quickly ; "at least, not in that 
way." 

"Now see here," exclaimed Deegan angrily, "you play 
no monkey tricks with me and don't you forget it." 

Suddenly he stretched out his arm before she was 
aware and caught her in a fast grip and led her to the 
door so that the light fell directly between them, illuminat- 
ing either face, hers very pale and his red and flushed. 
She made a little movement to free herself, exclaiming 
that he hurt her, and instantly he loosened his grasp. 
Then she looked up and met his glance full ; and there 
was that in his eyes made her cry out and stagger back as 
though before a heavy blow, so real and fierce was the 
passion that swift look disclosed to her. She held up 
her hands as though to shield herself. 

"You know that I love you — real and hearty?" he 
asked. 

"No, no," she cried, "not that." 

"I do so," he said. "You knew it ; you must have known 
it I told you." 

"But not like that,*' she urged. "How could I guess ? 
I thought — I did not think really, but I thought it just a 
fancy. How could I guess ? I am old and ugly. Look. 
I have only one eye. See yourself. It would be absurd ; 
you could not love a one-eyed woman?" 

.219 



Cofutance West 



*'I wouldn't give a oent though you was blind and deaf 
and dumb," he answered, in low, thick tones. "You're 
mine. I've done it and paid for it, and you promised." 

"Oh, no," she exclaimed indignantly, quite relieved at 
a statement to which she felt competent to g^ve emphatic 
deniaL "You forget, Mr. Deegan, you asked me twice 
to marry you, I know, but I said it was absurd. I thought 
you understood that I am sure I was plain about it — 
quite sure." 

"I asked you twice and you said 'Na' That's all right 
But then you said you would do anything for any man 
what ruined John Leigh. 'Anything,' you said, and I said 
'Anything?' and you said 'Yes' to that, quite plain and 
simple. Of course I knew what that meant and I done 
it Now I want you and I mean to have you, accordin' as 
you promised.' 

'Oh, but," she protested, "I— I- 



t 

4( € 



'Anything,' you said, 'Anything,' " he insisted, "and 
there ain't no way of backin' out now." 

"But I " she began, then stammered and stopped. 

Dimly their interview returned to her mind; she re- 
membered vaguely his words, his eager looks ; she seemed 
to hear again, too, her own reply. She assured herself 
that she had never dreamed, never once thought of it in 
the light that De^;an had understood; but she remem- 
bered how her passion-tossed soul had raged all that after- 
noon. She thought of the madness that had possessed 
her, the reckless, hopeless anger that cared for nothing 
save its own gratification. She felt that she had neither 
cared nor thought much about his meaning so long as he 
went out to do some harm to the man she hated. She 

220 



Constance West 



had been content to let him slip, like a hound on the trail, 
and for the consequences she had not then cared. 

" 'Anything/ you said/' Deegan went on, repeating the 
word with a monotonous and sombre persistence. " 'Any- 
thing/ So I done it That's why." 

"But you hated him yourself/' she cried, as a loophole 
of escape presented itself to her. "You said you did?" 

"Oh, yes. I had it in for him all right But that was 
clean and open. I would have gone out and scrapped 
with him any day sooner than eat two dinners. Why, but 
for these blame police him or me would have been shot 
full of holes before this. You bet we would if this had 
only been God's own country across the border. But that 
ain't nothing to do with settin' fire to a man's place when 
he's away. That's what I done and I done it for you and 
I want my pay." 

"Oh, I will give you money," she cried eagerly, but he 
dismissed the words with a wave of his hand, with an in- 
difference so profound that it was not even contempt 

"The pay's you," he said and then repeated, "The pay's 
you, Mrs. West, ma'am." 

She made a gesture of dissent She was as yet too 
bewildered to be either really angry or really frightened. 
Perhaps, also, she had felt too much that day to respond 
quickly to any fresh emotion. She tried to argue with 
him, and when she had made an end he suddenly seized 
her in his arms and showered hot kisses on her. She 
fought him dumbly; she struggled; at last she broke 
away, all trembling and ashamed. 

She wxxild have fled but that he had closed the door 
and now stood with a foot pressed against it Behind 
her on the stable walls, his shadow^ vast and black. 



221 



Cofutance West 



moved threateningly to and fro, varying with the swing 
of the lantern that had been disturbed in their short 
struggle. This shadow seemed to her like some huge 
familiar spirit, ready to pounce upon her and carry her 
away, and she watched it with almost as much fear as 
she had for the man himself. 

"What's wrong with you, anyway?" he asked, his tone 
now not angry, but suddenly thin and querulous. "I 
don't want to hurt you. I only want my rights ; what you 
promised your own self." 

His tone was now so oddly complaining as of a man 
defrauded of his just rights, that she almost laughed and 
she felt less afraid. 

"It's quite out of tfie question," she said, "as I told 
you. Absolutely." 

"You promised," he retorted, "and I'm out to see you 
don't go back on it." 

With a sudden leap he held her again. She screamed 
sharp and sudden ; but he swung her from the ground and 
held her in his arms, like a baby, so that she was over- 
whelmed with a sudden sense of her own utter helpless- 
ness. 

"John, oh, John," she cried in blank despair, and the 
name echoed and re-echoed in the stable and the loft 
above. 

He put her down at that and they stood facing each 
other. There w^s an utter silence. The disturbed horses 
grew quiet again. Outside, the stillness of the lonely 
night was no more intense than that which reigned in the 
stable. Neither seemed even to breathe, till at last Deegan 
asked very gently: 

"And John? Who is John?" 



222 



Constance West 



4*' 



"My husband," she answered proudly, and gave him 
back look for look, for in some strange way that name 
had restored her courage. She no longer felt so com- 
pletely alone. 

^He is alive then?" 

'Yes," came the swift answer. 

Is it him — ^John Leigh?" he asked next, his wits quick- 
ened by jealousy. 

"Yes," she answered again. 

"So. I want to think." 

He leaned back against the stable door, trying to ac- 
commodate his mind to this new fact She watched him, 
but her mind, too, was in a whirl of thought. Behind 
everything was the figure of a lonely man who stood with 
his head drooping on his breast, watching the dying 
embers of a great fire. Also she had in her mind the 
knowledge of how that fire had been caused. 

"But you hated him?" he said presently, questioning 
her. 

"Oh, yes," she said, but this time there was no convic- 
tion in her level tones. 

"I don't understand," he said again, "it clean beats me. 
But you tell me, I have a right to know. He hated yoti, 
too?" 

"He? Oh, yes, he must now." 

"Well, then," continued Deegan hesitatingly, as though 
feeling his way through some dark labyrinth, "but still — 
you come here — ^and you try to smash him all up— and he 
never says a word — ^and you're most mighty thick with 
him and his girl. I don't see how it hangs together. 
Did you hate him, real and honest?" 

"I suppose so," she answered. "Yes, I did." 



223 



Canitance West 



"But then — ^I don't catch on — why ain't you glad now 
he is smashed?" 

"I hated him because I loved him so/' she answered 
wearily. "Now do you understand?" 

"I don't/' said Deegan abruptly. "I call that foolin'. 
But I see one thing mighty plain. He hated you and you 
him? That's so? Yes. Well, I love you and you don't 
hate me, and you promised and I mean to see it through. 
So I'll fix it yet You trust me." He nodded to her re- 
assuringly and repeated the last phrase^ "You just trust 
me. 



"This is getting absurd, Mr. Deegan/' said Mrs. West 
half laughing. "We had better go in. We are both tired 
and want sleep. In the morning you will understand. 
You see it is not possible when I am married already." 

His persistence seemed to her quite ridiculous. In her 
brain there floated some hazy joke about turning Mormon. 
He opened the door and taking the lantern from its nail, 
held it down so that she could see to step clear of the 
stable dirt He glanced up at her as he stooped and saw 
the half smile that played about her lips. He spckt and 
his voice came low and matter of fact, vet instinct with 
dreadful threat. 

"Widows can marry again," he said. "Widow West" 

That day she had endured all emotions to the quick of 
her capacity and this reached beyond. She opened her 
lips to cry out, but her tongue was mute. Even the very 
darkness seemed to swim about her, and the low swinging 
light of the lantern to circle round her interminably. She 
thought that she sank through endless space and her 
senses left her. 

"Swooned, I reckon," said Deegan, as he caught her in 

224 



Constance West 



his arms and his vcrice was wonderfully gentle, in contrast 
to the gloomy threat he had just uttered. 

He held her very tenderly and she rested lightly in his 
arms. She lay weak and alone and utterly helpless, and 
because he loved her truly, chivalry awoke in his heart. 
It was on him, on him and on no other, that her safety 
depended, and he thrilled with pride at the knowledge. 
Now he knew happiness as he walked in the dark loneli- 
ness of the night with her head resting on his shoulder 
and her slight body pressed close to his heart Indis- 
tinctly he could see her white face through the darkness 
that enveloped them and cut them off, they two together, 
from all the world beside. He felt with joy that he could 
kiss her now, and his content was deeper yet to know that 
he would not, that helpless and unconscious and alone she 
was yet as safe with him as though they walked at noon 
in the busy streets of some great city. He would not 
even pause to prolong the moments that were so sweet to 
him, but went on steadily till he had placed her just as 
she was and still unconscious on the bed in her own room. 

Then he went away swiftly and sat till the morning 
came red in the east, thinking and drinking, drinking and 
thinking. 



MS 



CHAPTER XXV 



FROM her swoon Mrs. West passed into a deep 
sleep, and it was late the following morning 
when she awoke. For a little she lay in silence 
and remembered first of all the great fire and 
the solitary man watching umnoved the accomplishment 
of his ruin. Quickly then, as her brain grew active again, 
came the reoc^ection of that strange scene in the stable, 
and she sprang up with a shudder as she remembered 
Deegan's gloomy threat. But she stood in her own fa- 
miliar room, about her little things eloquent to her of the 
English village where she had lived so long and where 
such things did not happen. Outside her window, where 
the hot sunshine lay all down the street, was the sound of 
everyday life, the teams going to and fro, the shouting 
of the drivers, the general murmur of talk and movement 
mingling with passing footsteps that rang on the wooden 
sidewalk, and close by was the barking of two angry dogs 
and a man's voice shouting at them. It seemed to her 
that what had been said in the stable was but a dream. 

*'He simply wuld not have really meant it," she mur- 
mured and went to the looking-glass. "It is too absurd," 
she said with a little sigh and an involuntary movement to 
arrange her hair afresh. "I am old — old and worn. He 
must have been drunk or excited, and I perhaps misunder- 
stood or exaggerated. I was tired out, I know." 

She went on with her toilet and still assured herself that 

226 



Constance West 



Deegan's feelings could have no real strength. She 
thought of the little cottage where she had lived a quiet 
and solitary life so long, and of the several maiden ladies 
-who passed near by peaceful, uneventful days, and with 
whom she had associated in the tiny events of their village 
life ; the yearly flower show and the Sunday School en- 
tertainments. She remembered one lady with whom she 
had of ten had tea, a Miss Higgins, precise and prim and 
f ormaly and laughed to imagine a man threatening murder 
for her sake. "And it is more absurd for me than for 
her," she added to herself, ''for she was a fine looking 
woman, and she was not one-eyed." 

So reassuring herself she went on with her toilet and 
quite forgot that in England there were a thousand little 
conventions that here did not exist ; that there she was but 
one among a thousand such, but here alone and unique. 
It did not occur to her that Deegan in all his life had never 
before met with such a woman as herself except upon the 
most distant terms, .while she had been in his house for 
months. 

Quite easy in her mind about Deegan, her thoughts 
turned to John Leigh, and she found herself thinking of 
iiim with pity and yet, strangely enough, without remorse. 
She was sorry for him as it affected herself, yet she felt 
that she had in a sense cleared the score between them. 
She felt that now she could meet him on equal terms. Be- 
fore he had been the tyrant, the bully who had insulted 
her with a blow ; now he was a ruined and solitary man 
and her heart went out to him. She saw him suffering the 
vengeance she inflicted; her pride became soothed, and 
her heart opened to the pity and the love that came, old 
^dmrades as the^ are^ hand in hand to seek an entrance. 

227 



Canitance West 



"I will make him oome to me again," she said softly. 
''I will not let him know I have forgiven him, but he shall 
guess, perhaps he will ask it and then — " — she 
laughed softly — ^''then I will give it him. I will even 
forgive him that other woman, because he may have been 
mad, as his father said. But he shall swear first that he 
never, never cared for her.'* 

^ It was with almost a happy face that Mrs. West went 
lightly down the stairs and found her way into the kitchen. 
Pierre was busy there with the dinner and she at once 
lock control again, finding with little grimaces of disgust 
dirt and untidiness everywhere. Yet she showed a good 
temper over each fresh discovery that rather puzzled 
Pierre, who was vaguely aware that things were not quite 
as they might be. Even when she discovered the best 
copper kettle filled with grease for soap boiling, she only 
told him he would have the job of cleaning it again, and 
when he showed her a cake be had been tr3dng to bake and^ 
asked why it was a failure, she only burst out laughing* 
when it appeared he had quite forgotten the baking pow- : 
der. She did indeed display hot indignation when pres- 
ently she found a man's sock in the soup he was boiling 
for dinner. She held it out angprily at the end of a long 
spoon she had raked it up with, and Pierre admitted with 
profuse apologies that the day before he had done a little 
private washing and had stretched a line above tiie cook- 
ing stove for drying purposes. 

"It must have fallen, madam," he protested between 
his bows as he retreated before her wrath. 

Yet Mrs. West did not long remain angry. Suddenly 
the ludicrous aspect of the thing occurred to her as he 
retreated and she followed, waving tlje §ock ipdignantly 

228 



Constance West 



on the end of her spoon. She laughed outright and' 
Pierre even ventured on a remonstrance, so encouraged 
was he> when she bade hun give the soup to the pigs. But 
she was peremptory and he sighed as he poured it into 
the trough. 

"The good soup, so strong, so hot," he murmured sadly 
as he poured, ''and all for one little sock, just washed and 
dean. Alas \" 

The smile still lingered on Mrs. West's lips as she 
turned from watching him to see Deegan standing silently 
in the doorway. 

"Good morning," she said brightly, and he looked at her 
with amazement that she should be so brisk and merry. 

"How beautiful you are," he said abruptly, and at that 
she laughed outright. Yet was there a touch of height- 
ened colour on her cheeks as she imagined that possibly — 
just possibly — ^John Leigh might have some similar 
thought. 

"You must not say that, you know," she said. "People 
will think you are making fun of me." 

"Come into my office," he said abruptly. 

"Oh," she protested, "I can't I am far too busy with 
the^dinner. What do you think, Mr. Deegan?" and she 
told him the story of Pierre and the sock she had found 
in the soup. - 

She expected him to laugh, but he listened with un- 
abated gravity, and when she had finished he passed his 
hand across his brow and looked at her so miserably, 
with so bewildered an air, that for the first time that 
morning she felt chilled and a little afraid. 

"You are not well ?" she asked gently. "Have you not 
slept? Are you feeling ill?" 



229 



Cotutance West 



u 



"Slept?" he answered with a start "Oh, yes, splen- 
didly. At least I think I slept I think I dreamed. 
Come into the office." 

He turned and after a moment's hesitation she followed 
him. He gave her a seat and went to his desk, where he 
8at down himself. He opened a drawer and began to 
fidget with scxnething that lay hidden in it She sat 
waiting, with uneasy glances, first at him and then out 
of the window at the empty yard of tfie hotel. 

"I heard of Art. Briscoe this morning," he said pres- 
ently. "That Leigh girl is nursing him. Did you know I 
split his head open with an axe ?" 

"Oh," she cried. "Oh," she gasped, incapable of speech. 
Oh, oh," she cried again. 
Yes," he said. "I done that. And I burned John 
Leigh's place yesterday. And what's more, I'm glad I 
did. Now what are you goin' to do about it?" 

"But Mr. Briscoe?" she exclaimed. "Is he — ^is he 
dead?" 

"They say he'll die sure thing. But Doc Evans says 
maybe he won't if the Leigh girl goes on nursin' him the 
way she is and don't let up. But it's you I want to know 
about" 

"But what did you do it for?" she asked, half uncon- 
sciously evading the point he was pressing on her. 

"Oh, I guess it happened. Course he was kind of mad 
with me and he went for me like a whole sackful of wild 
cats and I just had tO; to get away. But about this other 
thing r 

She did not answer hini, for she did not know what to 
say. 

Mrs. West, ma'am," he went on presently, "I love you 

230 



w 



Constance West 



straight and honest. I don't know why and I'm kind of 
sorry about it, too, but I love you as hot as I was twenty 
years younger and as strong as I was twenty years 
older. I can't help it. I've strove against it I've 
wrestled with it I've got drunk and loved you more. 
I've sworn off for a week and loved you all the time, 
I've gone to talk to other women and it was only you I 
saw. I love you, rough and ignorant as I know I am, 
and not amountin' to much, but I love you — I — I just dote 
on you." 

His first words had seemed to Mrs. West touching and 
eloquent; they had moved her profoundly and she con- 
templated appealing to his better side, trusting him, thank- 
ing him for the honour he did her, and, showing him that 
it was impossible, ask him to forgive and to forget her. 
She had much power over him, and since love calls to 
righteousness as deep to deep, such an appeal might have 
saved much. But that last unlucky phrase touched her 
sense of the ridiculous and drowned the wiser impulse in 
sheer grotesqueness. She bit her lip to keep back a laugh 
and again his passion seemed to her unreal. 

"Well," she said lightly, "you must try to stop doting, 
I am afraid. Get over it, Mr. Deegan; you will forget 
it in a week if you try." 

"Get over it?" he said, and he saw the half repressed 
smile. 

His hand that was hidden in the drawer closed there 
with a firm purpose, and with his other hand he waved 
her back as she walked towards the door. She hesitated 
for a mcHnent, but still moved on, putting her hand on the 
latch. 

"Please come back," he said, and his face, as he lifted it 

231 



Constance West 



to her while he spoke, was so white and drawn that her 
heart reproached her and she sat down again. 

"You don't believe I love you," he said. "WeU, look 
at me.** 

Their eyes met and in the depths of his there burned so 
fierce a passion that she became troubled, half convinced 
against her will. 

"Not love/' she protested weakly. 

"Yes, love," he said. "I never thought folk did hon- 
estly, or ever before saw a woman I would have given a 
hill of beans for. But now I know. I can't tell you how 
I feel, for I never had education. But I'm all on fire, on 
fire, body and brain on fire. I'm all in a shake and inside 
me there's two things fightin' and only God knows whichll 
win. I don't." 

She looked at him, puzzled and distressed. 

"But why?" she burst out, almost with irritaticm. 
'*Why, it's so silly." 

"As if I knew why," he retorted, with an equal show 
of temper. "It's unreasonable to ask. Don't you believe 
me yet? Haven't I given you proof? Don't it amount 
to anything that I tried to ruin that young fool of a Bris- 
coe because I thought you wanted it? Nothing that if he 
dies I'll have done murder? Nothing that I've burned a 
man's place, buildings and stacks and ricks together? 
Nothing that the police n^iy be here any time? Nothing" 
that I'm like again what I was on the road years back ? 
Grod in Heaven, woman, what more do you need? My 
life? Maybe you shall have Uiat before long. But 
there's my soul and my heart, and you've torn 'em into 
little bits and still you don't believe I love you* Did 

232 



Constance West 






your John — ^John, curse him for a black-hearted rat— -did 
he ever give you such proofs?" 

In his excitement Deegan had risen to his feet and now 
he stood over her, waving his arms in the air. He paused, 
challenging her for an answer^ with his hands hovering 
over her head like some great bird ready to pounce upon 
her at a moment. She answered him bravely. 

'Yes, he has suffered for my sake for twenty years." 
'And I whole lifetimes/* he screamed at her, "Years, 
centuries." 

Then his voice dropped suddenly as though he realized 
the noise he was making. He went back to his seat and 
Mrs. West saw with surprise and relief that his face had 
suddenly become quiet and calm; there was not even a 
drop of perspiration on his forehead nor any sign to wit- 
ness to the extreme agitation he had just displayed. He 
leaned his head on his hands and she waited. 

"You ain't treated me particular white/' he said pres- 
ently. 

"I am afraid — I fear ^" she began hesitatingly, but 

he so evidently paid her no attention that she did not at- 
tempt to finish the sentences. 

"Caesar 1" he continued after a long pause, "I would 
never have believed one woman could have played such 
mischief with us all. It's worser than a bad bull loose in 
town. Do you see any way out?" 

"How do you mean?" she asked. "Do you— 
mean " 



He looked up straight at her. Her attention became 
enchained. She shivered at she knew not what and sud* 
denly she became afraid. Slowly he nodded to her ahd 
then she saw that he held a revolver across his knees. 

233 



Constance West i 



"The fact is/' he said slowly, "this earth ain't big 
enough for me and you and him. One of us has got to 
— ^to go." He repeated the word and then changed it, 
still in the same slow, dreamy tones. "To go — to go — to 
die." Then he paused and added presently in a quick, im- 
patient manner: "Right away, too. And, Mrs. West, 
noa'am, you must say which." 



^34 



CHAPTER XXVI 



THE silence in the little room grew intense. Dee- 
gan sat motionless, his head hung down, and 
it might have been supposed that he slept. 
Mrs. West sat as quietly, though sometimes 
she locked from the window and sometimes her glance 
would rest upon the little, shining pistol as it lay on EJee- 
gan's knees, so remain for a moment and then flash away. 
Twice some one came to the door, but each time the knock- 
ing went tmanswered. At last Mrs. West spoke abruptly, 
hef voice strangely distinct in the silent room. 

"Of course," she said, "of course, you don't mean this." 

"Oh, yes," he said wearily, without looking up, "I mean 
it all right. Me or you or him — and your call." 

Somehow no oath he could have sworn, no declaration 
he could have made, no elaborate form of words, could 
have so deeply impressed her with a sense of inflexible 
purpose. She made no answer ; now her brain was curi- 
ously empty ; now filled with so many thoughts that her 
head ached with the stress of them. 

Sh^ had longed for revenge, planned for revenge, lived 
for it alone, desired it as only the passion-possessed desire, 
done such things that she might attain it Now the op- 
portunity was presented to her, and she shrank from it 
with unutterable fear and loathing. She remembered her 
plans with horror as at something too dreadful for thought 
and she could not believe that such things had really been 

235 



Constance West 



her desire. She even became afraid that unaware her 
tongue, turning traitor, might pronounce her husband's 
name, impelled by the very extremity of her contrary in- 
tention, and in that fear she clapped her hand across her 
lips. The last remnant of her hate disappeared in that 
dread possibility. 

She began to try to think of some means of escape from 
the dreadful predicament in which she found herself. She 
thought in turn of each possibility. She would not speak 
her husband's name; to speak Deegan's would be a 
kind of murder, and she was ashamed as she remembered 
how it was she herself who had put an edge to his inten- 
tion. There remained the third course. She began to 
shake as she sat on her chair, to shake and shiver as 
though very cold, and then suddenly anger came to her 
relief. 

"Coward, villain," she cried, casting about in her mind 
for worse terms of reproach. "You cannot force me to 
such a choice. What right? I will go to the police. I 
will call for help. How dare you hint such things? 
You wicked villain, you shall be punished. Oh, I did not 
think you were so bad." 

"I wasn't," he said gloomily. "I am now. As for 
makin' you choose, that's dead easy. If you get the police 
or try to stop me, I'll take it you mean me. If you say 
nothin' at all, I'll take it you mean him." 

"It is barbarous," she cried. "It is too awful." She 
put her hands to her head and glanced round her with 
bewilderment "Have you no pity ?" she cried. 

"Take your time," he answered. "I don't want to 
hustle you. But you must say before sundown." 

She looked at him, contemplating different appeals to 

236 



Constance West 



soften him. But he sat crouched and impassive, and she 
knew beforehand that each one would break helplessly 
against an inflexible determination. He made no protes- 
tations nor showed any sign of agitation as he waited the 
awful decision forced upon her, and yet she knew well 
there were no pleadings, nor words, nor tears. that would 
avail to turn him. He would have faced it out against 
all obstacles, and she caught at her head and groaned and 
wondered how it had all happened. Yet though she knew 
it hopeless, she cast continually furtive glances at him, 
searching for some sign of weakness or hesitation, some 
hint of relenting or suggestion that her distress was soft- 
ening him. 

Now the sun in its course was beginning to shine in by 
the little window and it seemed to Mrs. West that life 
was good. She felt that even to exist is compensation for 
all evil. Presently she moved so as to sit in the now 
flooding sunshine that yet could not warm the chill horror 
at her heart 

"Mr. Deegan," ^e said softly. 

He looked up and at the sight of his face, pale and im- 
passive, with burning eyes sunk deep in their sockets, she 
shuddered and abandoned the appeal she had contem- 
plated. 

"Would you have me do murder?*' she cried passion- 
ately. 

"No, no/' he answered witH tmconsdous irony, "only 
show the way — ^like you did before." 

And at that answer she fell silent She began to won- 
der whether there would be much pain, and it occurred to 
her that poison was not disfiguring. 
^ Her mind went back to the things she had planned that 



237 



Constance West 



morning, of how she had detennined to forgive at last, of 
the happy future she had imaged in her mind. It seemed 
to her very hard and unfair that this should happen now. 
She thought of John Leigh and longed intensely to see 
him again, but of Arthur Briscoe and Annie she never 
thought at all. She looked again at Deegan and now 
with sullen rage. It was he who had put this upon her 
and it would be only fair to speak his name and catch him 
in his own trap. She hesitated a little. His name 
trembled on her lips; she spoke it, but in an inaudible 
whisper. 

"Which one?" said Deegan softly, and when she made 
him no answer, "Take your time, take your time. But I 
know." 

In his own mind Deegan was quite certain she would 
choose him, nor did he desire otherwise. Quietly as he 
$at, he had already bidden farewell to life and now was 
thinking with a strange happiness of bow he had held her 
so lately in his arms, helpless and senseless, and refrained 
from even kissing her. "She'll never know that," he said 
to himself, and there was peace in his soul. 

"I cannot," groaned Mrs. West, and to that he made 
no answer. 

He sat so quietly that her anger against him grew less ; 
he assumed to her eyes the aspect of some impersonal 
messenger of fate, against whom one might no more 
reasonably rage than against an illness or an accident. It 
seemed extraordinary to her that she, a quiet, middle-aged 
lady, should be in so strange and fearful a position. 
Sometimes the whole thing seemed to her unreal, so that 
she had again an impression that it was all a dream. But 
Deegan, sombre and unmoving, with the pistol resting oq 



238 



Constance West 



his knee, he and it were real enough. If only John Leigh 
would come to her helpl Suddenly she began to rage 
against him, almost as though he knew and would not 
come. After all, it was through his great fault that all 
this had happened. She had desired revenge. Why not 
take it, now that it lay ready to her hand. Her lips 
framed his name. She moved impatiently and Deegan 
fancied that she spcdce. 

"Which one ?" he asked again. 

"How do I know you will agree to what I say?" she 
asked in her turn. 

"That needn't bother you. not a little bit," he answered. 
"Just whatever you say ; that goes. I ain't going back on 
my word." 

And she knew that this was certain. 

"Is there no other way?" she cried with despair in her 
tones. 

"Oh, yes," he said, "there's one other way — and you 
know it." 

She looked up eagerly with almost a dawning hope, but 
now she saw an evil look on his face where before had 
been only inflexible resolution. She understood and 
sighed sadly. 

"Then I choose," she said and stopped, choking, and he 
looked to the loading of his pistol. She began to cry 
softly. 

"Don't let it botfier you," he said mildly. "I guess it 
just had to happen." 

"Do you still really mean it?" she asked, with lingering 
hope that is so Icwig a-dying. 

He nodded and she shivered again, though she stood 
yrith the warm sunshine full upon her. She was shaken 



239 



Constance West 



with swift shudders that ran from head to foot and there 
was a dry gulping in her tliroat He said in a whisper 
that seemed to her like a boisterous shout : 

"Which one?" 

"Must it be ?'' she said hopelessly, and then : "But there 
is a thing you must promise me first/' 

"Anything/' he answered, "that don't affect the main 
point" 

"Then first you must let me go and say 'good-bye/ " 

He did not answer that, but for the first time he showed 
signs of agitation ; his hands shook and he had difficulty 
in speaking. 

"But whidi one ?" he said at last 

"It must be " 






'Yes, yes," he breathed in eager gasps. 

'Oh, God, myself/' she cried, and flung up her arms 
and then buried her face in her hands, shuddering ter- 
ribly. 

Next moment she recovered her self-possession and 
stood up quite calmly ; and he faced her, shaken now as 
she had been the moment before. 

"No, no," he whispered, and caught at her dress and 
held it "No, no," he protested quickly, "I never meant 
that" 

"If any one at all, it must be me," she answered. She 
spoke with the fsdntest glimmer of hope, with just a touch 
of new appeal in her voice. 

Slowly he loosened his grasp on her dress, and strange 
thoughts came to him and evil. He considered tfie three 
courses he had forced her to choose from. He saw hinv- 
self dead and her with John Leigh, and that was hard to 
bear. He saw Leigh dead and himself scorned and hated 

240 



Constance West 



by her, and that was harder still to think of. And then 
he saw her dead, beyond the reach of any rival, and he 
remembered that he could die beside her. He remem- 
bered how that temptation had come to him the night be- 
fore. If he could not live for her, at least he could die 
with her and that would be much. The dreadful fascina- 
tion of the thing began to numb his mind. With his love 
there began to mingle another feeling. For here is a 
great mystery ; that ever the highest has in it something of 
the lowest, as Heaven itself held Satan ; and so love, im- 
mortal and divine, is yet faintly akin to hate, and passion 
but another name for rage. In Deegan's heart were love 
and passion, and they strove together, strove in that deadly 
and awful strife wherein so many tragedies are born, im- 
mortalized in great poems or vulgarized in modem news- 
papers. Deegan groaned and cried out in his anguish, 
and Mrs. West was more afraid than she had even been 
before. 

"It is just," he said fiercely, "so neither of us shall have 
you." 

"It is just," she answered ; "so shall I make amends." 

He sprang up and seized her arm. She looked him full 
in the face and he went back to the chair with a groan 
and sat down. She watched his distress with an imper- 
sonal pity, as for something that had happened very long 
!ago. 

"You promise that?" she sdd, and now her voice was 
firm and it seemed that she had forgotten to be afraid. 

1 make no promise," he said sulkily. 

'Yes," she answered ; "that I may go first to bid him 
farewell." 

"No," he cried, and swore aloud. "And tell him you 






241 



Comtance West 



love him and hang on his neck with kisses — " he writhed 
on his chair and bit his hands till the blood came — ^*'and 
kiss him/' he repeated with an evil look at her» 

"No," she answered softly; "that I did not mean. 
Only to see him once more and tell him I'm sorry and 
say 'good-bye/ " 

"Swear you will not tell him you love him,'* he cried. 

"If you wish/' she answered, for she felt that now her 
husband could have no wish to hear that from her, who 
had ruined him. "I only mean to tell him I'm sorry and 
say 'good-bye/ " 

"And tfien ?" he asked. 

"And then I shall come back to you. You can wait in 
the poplar Muff near the second ravine on Morris's place 
— ^there I ^ill meet you and no one need ever know. If 
you are still determined?" 

She realized that she was making arrangements far her 
own death and she wondered greatly that she was so 
calm and her mind so free from any great emotion. After 
all, it seemed but a little thing, a thing both small and 
easy. Perhaps it might in a way make amends. 

"Beneath the poplars," he repeated dully. 

"I shall not get out of the buggy," she said suddenly; 
"I should not dare. You must do it while I sit there." 

"It will be better so," he agreed, gnawing his hands. 
"It is just," he said, and again: "I call it the square 
thing, just and right. The earth ain't big enough for the 
three of us. It's the correct thing/' He paused and 
then added in sudden complaint: "It would have been 
all right if you had told me all about it from the first" 

"Oh/' she said with a gesture of contempt. " 'If and 



242 



Constance West 



'if.' But it is very strangle. This will be my last day 
and I am not sorry, for life is very hard and I have made 
a sad bungle of it." 

"It is the only way out," he said, and then they went 
together to prepare her buggy. 



«43 



CHAPTER XXVII 



MRS. WEST drove awaj over the level prairies 
and as she went the now declining sun made 
long shadows by her side. From the hotel 
Deegan watched her gloomily, and watched 
till long after she had disappeared from sight At last 
he walked after her down the trail, muttering to faimsdL 
Under his arm he carried a double barrelled shot-g^n, 

Mrs. West went on steadily, her mind almost a blank, 
for she was too exhausted by recent emotion to respond 
further. Dimly she was aware that some one was to die, 
and it seemed incredible that this should be herself. She 
knew, too, that she was going to bid some one farewell, 
and in her mind were vague memories of past anger ; of 
schemes, of plans, of bitterest sorrow — ^and of huge leap- 
ing flames that coloured all her thoughts. In these fleet- 
ing memories there was only one with real coherence — ^a 
girl standing by a gate in an English country lane with 
beside her a tall figure that stooped to whisper softly, 
murmuring sweet things and dear. 

Presently there rose before her the little g^up of pop- 
lars from beneath which she had watched the fire the day 
before. Here she alighted, hitched her horse to a tree, 
and went on softly and on foot. At the other side of the 
bluflf she paused and looked, almost with amazement, at 
the black ruins of the farm, from which, here and there, 
small trails of smoke still arose. 



244 



Constance West 



"I did not know it was so bad/' she said with trembling 
lips, and moved on by the side of the bluff till she heard a 
slight sound close by. Then she went more carefully 
and soon, peeping between the trees, she saw her husband 
a little way in front. She remained hidden, watching him 
with a strange sense of being once more at home, with a 
sweet sense of peace and rest stealing over her. 

Leigh sat on the ground near his wagon, which was 
still where it had been the day before, though apparently 
the horses had been removed. He himself was busy slic- 
ing a piece of bacon. He had built a fire m a hole in the 
ground near by and over it, in a very old and rusty frying 
pan, he was trying to cook a kind of pancake. The tail 
board of the wagon was lying by his side and was evi- 
dently to serve as a table. On it stood a tin plate and an 
open knife, and an old fruit can which was now serving 
as kettle and teapot in one. Mrs. West saw all this from 
her place of concealment, and felt keenly the roughness 
and discomfort of his camp. 

She came out into the open and he sprang up with a 
little cry of surprise. 

"What is that?" she asked severely with an odd ap- 
pearance of rebuke, pointing her finger at the fire. 

"That," he said, surprised at her question and a little 
disappointed. "Oh, that is only my supper. I had no 
dinner," he added with an air of apologizing for the 
necessity of a meal. 

"Then you must be hungry,** said Mrs. West, and 
picked up the frying pan. She inspected the contents 
with grave disgust and deliberately tilted it into the fire. 
Then she surveyed the pan itself with equal disapproval. 

«45 



Constance West 



"It is old," she said, "and dirty. Why do you use sudi 
things?" 

"Well," he answered, rather embarrassed at the ques- 
tion; "the fact is — a little accident." 

"Oh," she said and she looked slowly up to the black 
scene of ruin and desolation that lay before her, with, in 
places, rising smoke to tell that fire still smouldered be- 
neath. "There has been a fire," she announced as though 
the fact surprised her. 

He looked at her puzzled. 

"It seems so," he said. 

"An accident ?" she asked. 

"No," he answered. "A result — a natural consequence." 
He stared at her and then asked gently: "You know, 
Connie?" 

She shivered a little as she heard, and without answer- 
ing she began to busy herself preparing his supper. He 
watched her with a blank amazement while she moved 
quickly about his camp, finding the things that she needed. 
A few necessities he had borrowed from his nearest neigh- 
bour and one or two things he had rescued from the 
ashes of his house ; and with these rough materials she 
worked busily till at last she turned to him with a bright 
smile. 

"Now, John," she said, "it is ready for you." 

He came obediently and sat down, wondering to see 
how appetizing a meal she had prepared. Astonished be- 
yond measure,, and in some alarm, too, for her manner 
seemed to him very strange, he yet tried to eat and he 
made one or two attempts to speak easily about trifling 
matters. All the time his eyes rested on her lovingly, and 

246 



Constance West 



he had seen with exultation how she prepared this meal 
for him. 

"Are you not hungry?" she asked presently with an 
air of disappointment 

"Not for food," he answered slowly. 

He put out his hand and touched her dress^ and she 
did not move away. He stood up and took her hand in 
his, and this, also, she permitted. He put both arms 
round her, still unresisting, and slowly drew her nearer 
till she was pressed close to him. Then she put down her 
head on his shoulder and wept bitterly ; and he, straining 
her to his heart, spoke loving words in her ear. 

"But do you still love me ?" she asked ; "after all that 
I have done." 

"Yes," he answered; and she put up her face like a 
child to be kissed. "But the fire," she said ; "and the other 
things. Oh, you do not know. I have been so bad these 
last months." 

She fell to weeping still more bitterly and he consoled 
her, saying that now they would begin a new life and let 
all the old be forgotten. His happiness thrilled in him so 
that he spoke confidently between his caresses and she 
listened with tears. 

"But now you must have your supper,** she interrupted 
him. "You are hungry?" she added with a touch of 
anxiety. 

"Awfully," he declared, and began to eat again while 
she sat by and smiled and waited on him, seeing his every 
want supplied with a flutter of eager attention ; and the 
moments were to them the happiest that either had known 
for many years. 

At last he declared that he was satisfied. She cleared 



247 



I 



Constance Wat 



away the remnants of the meal, rejecting his assistance 
and forcmg him to sit dowK agaia So he waited quietly 
till she had done, following her with loving eyes ana 
hardly realizing this sudden change in her conduct nor 
daring to think of the hopes that filled his heart Pres- 
ently she came back to him and said : 

"Do you smoke still ?" 

"Smoke? Oh, sometimes, but not now, thanks/' 

"But you always liked to after supper," she said, check- 
ing with her hand a movement he made to rise. She 
sat down beside him and with a half-laughing, half-timid 
look, she began to feel in his pockets, while he watched 
her with an amazed affection, half afraid it was all but 
such a dream as had sometimes come to him. "See how 
well I do it," she said aloud, in her thoughts likening 
herself to the girl-bride of long ago, and wiping out for 
the moment all the sad years that lay between. She 
opened his pouch and was filling the pipe when on a sud- 
den impulse he caught her tightly to him, murmuring 
broken words' of love. In his mind all was pure happi- 
ness, joy and gratitude that at last they were reconciled 
and his dearest hopes fulfilled. But in hers was a sombre 
picture of a lonely poplar bluff with a man waiting — 
waiting for her. Therefore she resolved to hold the 
passing moments more closely and she returned his caress- 
es, determined to extract from each second all the hap- 
piness possible. 

"But you must smoke you know and be comfortable," 
she said at last when he had held her many momients and 
gently she freed herself. 

She handed him his pipe and to please her he drew 
at it though the smoke choked him. 

248 



Constance West 



"Now, will you kiss me," she said, and then: "Kiss 
me again," and a third time : "Just once more," she said : 
"for you will never again." 

"Every day of our lives," he answered, and laughed 
from sheer happiness. 

At that she shivered and clung closer to him, for she 
knew this must be her last day on earth. He wondered 
at her emotion, and he became uneasy, watching her 
closely. 

"Listen," she said: "I want to talk about the past." 

"Is that necessary?" he asked with instinctive shrink- 
ing. "It is dead. Let us forget it altogether." 

"Ah, if we only could," she cried with infinite pain in 
her voice. "But, if it is dead, the present is its child." 

Sbe began to speak rapidly, telling him how she had 
come there to seek a reconciliation, and of how she had 
heard of his second marriage, and so found her hate 
renewed and increased. Then she told him of her 
schemes and plans, and of how at last she had bribed 
Deegan to fire the farm. Only of what Deegan had 
thought that bribe to consist of, she did not speak; nor 
of the scene in the stable ; nor yet of the choice that he 
had thrust upon her that afternoon. Yet she said enough 
to increase the uneasiness he already experienced. When 
she had finished she paused for a moment and then con- 
tinued : 

"Can you forgive me, John? Now you know how I 
have hated you, and all that I have done. Can you love 
me still ?" 

For answer he kissed her passionately, and cried 
out, that he, at least, had no right to speak of forgiving 
any one* 

249 



Constance West 



"But you see," she said, "why, if the past be dead, 
its consequences still live." 

He sighed and moved uneasily. 

"One thing leads to another," he said after a pause. 
"But I must tell you, too, that at least the future may 
have no surprises." 

He hesitated, gulped a little, and then said with des- 
peration, for he feared greatly how she might take the 
opening of the old wounds. "You see, Connie, there is 
that child Annie ?" As he spoke he looked at her fearfully, 
half expecting her to turn and leave him. She did not 
speak and he went on, the words coming jerkily : "When 
it all happened, when I came out of gaol, when you did 
not answer my letter — " 

"I burned it," she interrupted; "I was 50 angry then, 
sad and angry — ^but most ang^y." 

"It was only natural," he said, "and I knew it and dared 
not come near you. I think I went mad. I tried to kill 
myself three or four times. Once a fool of a boatman 
pulled me out of the river, thinking it was an accident. 
So I gave him a sovereign and said I was much obliged. 
Then I said I would drink myself to death — ^and I drank 
till I lost all sense." He paused and swallowed in his 
throat and went on. "Annie's mother was a barmaid 
at the place I chiefly went to— -oh, Connie, do not move 
away! listen at least till I have done." 

"Yes, oh, yes, I will listeu," she said quickly. "I did 
not mean to move. I know better now and what I am«" 

"She was not a good woman, I know ; but she was kind 
and I think she had some idea of saving me. All this 
time I went on drinking steadily. I was in a hospital 



250 



Constance West 






twice. I know this is disgusting, Constance. I hardly 
knew what I was doing." 

^Gro on," she said. 

1 heard you had dropped my name and called your- 
self by your maiden name — Mrs. West That seemed 
very dreadful, very final, and I swore I did not care and 
would show that There was a ceremony of marriage 
I think, a civil ceremony, but I am not sure where. I 
think she knew you were alive but I cannot tell. I only 
remember that all the time I had a vague idea I was 
proving my indifference. The next thing I remember 
clearly is waking up in a hospital and a Doctor — a man 
with eye-glasses and a long thin nose — ^leaning over me 
and saying Tig* in a meditative kind of way. One of 
his front teeth had gone, I remember. Well, I was dis- 
charged from hospital and she met me. Constance, this 
is hard to tell." 

"It is hard to listen to," she answered. 

"I daresay," he said groaning. "I daresay. I went on 
like that till Annie was born. That was a shock some- 
how. Then her mother died. She was troubled on her 
death bed about — things — ^her connection with me. It 
was dreadful and I knew it was my fault and so — " 

"Did you love her?" said Mrs. West harshly. 

"I never pretended — she knew — ^you see there was no 
question of that, exactly." 

"Go on," said Mrs. West, and this time her tone was 
jnilder. 

"To ease her as she was dying I promised to keep the 
truth from Annie and to be a good father to her, I have 
tried — but I never dreamed then that I should see you 
again. I must tell her now and it will — for Annie is 

251 



Constance West 



very proud. You see, Constance, you are not the only 
woman I have injured ; three have cause to hate me. And 
I never meant it." 

"Are you not very ashamed?" asked Mrs. West, but 
not with severity, more as if asking for information. 

"Oh, yes," he answered, "it has been very bitter, and 
bitter hard not to drink again and forget, if only for a 
night I have rolled on my bed and groaned with the 
shame of it, groaned aloud till Annie has knocked at the 
door to ask if I were ill." 

"Which of us is worse ?" she asked. "You or I ?" 

"Why," he answered quickly, "what you did is my 
fault. You have not such things to keep you awake at 
night." 

She bowed her head and stood in infinite dejection, 
remembering what her passion of hate had betrayed her 
to and the penalty that she must pay. "And there is no 
help," she said to herself ; "for if it were not me, it would 
be him." 

"But now," he urged anxiously, for something in her 
manner alarmed him greatly; "now we can forget and 
live happily together again," 

"Happiness is not for such as us,** she answered sadly. 
"We must pay now ; at least, I must John, dear John, 
have you forgiven me everything, forgiven mc altogether? 
Are you sure you love me still?" 

For answer he caught her to him, crying: *Tcs; oh, 
yes." She put her arms around his neck and kissed him 
passionately on the lips, and it was as though neither 
time nor sin had ever parted them. They stood thus for 
long, and then she spoke slowly. 

Kiss me again," she said ; "for the last time." 



«<i 



252 



Constance Wat 



if 

u 

it 



"What do you mean?" he asked sternly, suddenly 
alarmed. 

"I must go,* she answered; and he laughed, but un- 
easily. 

"I must,** she repeated, intending to go without any 
further words. But there was such comfort in his arms, 
«uch security in his embrace, that her resolution broke. 
Oh, don't let me," she wailed. "Don't let me go." 
You shall not," he said, still holding her. 
Oh, but I must," she answered, for now she remem- 
bered Deegan's threat. "If you don't come back, mind, 
I'll go to him — and mighty glad, too." She seemed again 
to hear those words and suddenly she broke out. "Oh, 
John, hate me, hate me ; then I shall not mind. Say you 
hate me, John, dear John." 

"What do you mean ?" he repeated. "Tell me at once." 

"I daren't," she answered, shaking her head. 

"You must," he said, watching her keenly. She still 
shook her head and then he asked slowly: "Why did 
De^ian set fire to the farm for you ?" 

"Oh," she moaned, and would have fallen had he not 
held her so tightly. "I cannot bear it; it has all been 
so foolish, too. Oh, I cannot bear it For we might 
have been so happy. Now I must go. Don't think too 
hardly of me, John. I have been very wicked but I am 
paying for it, and understanding all I have lost." 

She moved away from him towards the buggy, and 
now it seemed that all agitation had gone, leaving her 
calm and fearless. He followed her thinking deeply. He 
did not attempt to stop her, and when they reached the 
buggy she turned to him and said: 

"Just kiss me once more, John, and tell me you love 

253 



Constance West 




me, and then it will not be so hard. And, John, never 
tell Annie anything." 

She stood now with one foot on the step of the buggy 
and she leaned back towards him that he might bid her 
farewell. He put one arm round her waist and looked 
down at her, frowning intently. 

"If you won't tell me," he said ; "Deegan shall." 

With a swift, strong movement, he swung her to the 
g^und and sprang to the buggy in her place, snatching' 
up whip and reins. 

"John, dear John," she screamed; "don't, oH, please 
don't. He will shoot you. Oh, come back, come back, 
he will kill you." 

"I thought as much," said Leigh grimly. "Wait here, 
ril drive straight back — or send." 

He lashed the horse with his whip and set off at a 
furious gallop. She stood watching him; frozen, over- 
whelmed, despairing. 



254 



CHAPTER XXVIII 



AT last Mrs, West moved slowly, looking round 
her with a bewildered air, and sighing deeply. 
Then quite suddenly she set off running at 
her topmost speed, as though she hoped to 
overtake her husband. The trail was close at hand, but 
it was only by good fortune that she found it, and only 
a miracle saved her from straying off it on to the open 
prairie. But the sod felt differently to her feet when once 
or twice she left the worn track, and though she was 
not conscious of attention she recognized the change each 
time and returned at once to the trail. Now, too, the 
Northern Lights began to shine and flicker in the sky 
above, giving out a dim unearthly radiance by which she 
could distinguish her path. 

Still she pressed on, unaware of fatigue, going quickly 
through the darkness and more quickly by the twilight of 
the Aurora, knowing that her husband had gone before 
her, going to his death that she might live. She con- 
tinually pictured his murder in her mind and at intervals 
she murmured : "For my sake, for my sake." Overhead 
the Aurora, at first faint and indistinct was now in shape 
like a huge crown, a diadem of heaven suspended over 
earth, with waves of light and changing colour spreading 
continually through it, and sometimes long streamers of 
fire that shot out to the furthermost edge of the horizon. 
Beneath Mrs. West went rapidly on her way across the 

255 



► 



Constance West 



desolate prairies, and thought of the sublime spectacle in 
the skies above, merely as affording her a scanty light 
and grumbled that it was so uncertain. In spite of all 
difficulties she hurried on with wonderful speed. At last 
she came to where her husband lay bleeding with near-by 
Deegan, still holding his empty gun in his hands. 

He heard her footsteps before he could see her, and 
at once he rose and stood waiting with an expectant air. 
In the dim and varying twilight of the Aurora she saw 
him, and saw how the ghostly radiance illumined his pale 
face, distorted by emotion. 

"Where is he?" she asked swiftly. "Where is he?" 

Deegan answered with an involuntary gesture, and she 
sank to the earth by the prostrate form he indicated; 
sorrow and remorse gripping her yet more tightly. Be^ 
fore, there had always been a chance, a vague hope, a 
possibility ; but now all cloudy imaginings were dispersed 
by the hard reality. For John Leigh lay unconscious, 
huddled in a formless heap, bleeding from a dozen 
wounds where the scattering shots had struck him, so that 
her hands as she ministered to him were wet — red and 
wet. She spoke no word but her mind was busy, re- 
calling all the things that had led up to this — ^this figure 
half hidden by the uncertain light which she longed to 
embrace with soft caresses and yet dreaded to see more 
clearly. 

"I done it," said Deegan from the outer darkness. "I 
done it." He came a little nearer, so that she saw him, 
vague and indistinct, but visible against the illumined 
sky. "I said I would and I done it." Again he paused 
and she listened without answering. Her grief was silent 
and he, hearing no sound of lamentation or reproach, mis- 

256 



Constance West 



understood her^ entertaining hopes both false and wicked. 

''I done it," he repeated after an interval and his voice 
grew softer and nx>re anxious. ''I done it soon as I 
saw who it was. Mrs. West, ma'am, did you send him?" 
Still she did not answer, and he, encouraged, came a little 
nearer and whispered again : ''Did you send him ? Did 
you now?" 

Then she understood the question and what it implied, 
and she screamed out, loud and sudden, so that he sprang 
back nervously and then swore at himself. 

"Oh, he's not dead," she wailed ; but with terror and 
despair she found that his heart was silent, that he did 
not breathe, that he was unaware of all she did. She 
pressed kisses on his brow and stroked his cheeks and 
remembered all the kind things he had done in by-gone 
days, and she lifted his heavy hands and pressed them to 
her lips, remembering how he had once kissed hers and 
laughed tenderly over their feebleness and tiny size. So 
she remembered now the good he had done to her and 
forgot utterly the evil, as before she had remembered the 
ervil and forgotten the good. She felt how deeply she 
loved him and she held him closely so that almost she 
found a touch of happiness to lighten her despair, as 
above the Aurora illumined the darkness of the night 
Near by, in a restless circle, round and round them, 
paced Deegan with uneven steps, holding now in his 
hands a gun no longer empty. At last he spoke. 

"Mrs. West, ma'am," he said. "You come away from 
there. You hear me?" 

"You can kill me too, if you like," she said and she 
bent over the silent form with caresses. "It's no more 
than I deserve." 



257 



CoMtance West 



"You did send him/' urged Deegan. "You did send 
him. Say you seiot him. I was glad all through when 
I saw it was hinx I didn't care a cent if it was murder 
so long as you sent him. I could have skipped with joy. 
'Come out, you skulking villain/ he yelled and I saw he 
meant business and I let loose with bodi barrels. He 
went staggering like the whisky was in him and he 
called 'Connie' twice. Then he dropped and I didn't give 
a cent 'cause I reckcHied you sent him. 'Connie, dear/ he 
said—" 

"Oh, did he?" cried Mrs. West, suddenly joyful. ''Oh, 
say that again ; please say that again." 

"That struck me all cold. So I sat and waited. But 
if you sent him, it won't fizz on me a little bit ; no, not 
though I see his face all bleeding for ever after. Not a 
continental — not that" And in the silence she heard 
distinctly as he twice snapped finger and thumb to- 
gether. 

"He came to save me; he knew and he came instead 
of me and I love him for it," she answered slowly. 

"Say you lie," he yelled at her. He resumed his rest-, 
less pacing, circling round and round them, now almost at 
a run. "Say you lie or I will shoot you, toa" 

"He came to save me/' she repeated and she heard 
the lock of his g^n click. "Because we loved each other 
so/' she continued and laughed softly, and stooping 
whispered to her unconscious husband that soon she 
would join him. 

She waited expectant and nothing happened. She 
drew the unconscious body she held yet closer to her 
heart and called out: 

258 



Constance West 



"Murderer! why don't you shoot? Eh, murderer, why 
don't you shoot?" 

"I can't," came the muffled answer. "I've tried, but I 
can't. You've played it low down on me, Mrs. West, 
ma'am," 

His tone was so despairing that she felt a momentary 
touch of pity — ^but only for a moment, for she had no 
thoughts to spare for any but her husband. 

"I daresay," she answered and he stood gloomily, listen- 
ing with jealous rage. 

"Why shouldn't I kill you?" he said, and he came 
close to her. She was aware that he was approadiing, 
but it did not occur to her to be afraid. She expected to 
die ; and at that moment to her to die meant to join her 
husband and to be at rest "I could skip across the 
border before sun-up," he said. "Why shouldn't I kill 
you?'* 

"How should I know ?" she answered. "Be quick about 
it." 

Very carefully he placed his gun on the ground at his 
feet and came up beside her. She could not see his 
face, but she felt his hands groping about her till they 
reached her throat and closed there. She made no at- 
tempt to struggle but sat quite still, placid and un- 
troubled. She felt the grasp upon her throat tighten 
slowly and she began to find a difficulty in breathing. 
A' slight smile appeared upon her lips and then without 
warning Deegan sprang away, leaving her free. She 
gave a quick sob, of relief, of bewilderment at finding 
herself still alive, of absolute disappointment. Deegan 
cried out to her with an angry oath. 

You don't give a cent," he complained; "not a red 

259 



ir 



Constance West 



solitary cent Here am I all afire and 'most crazy and 
what do you care? I might be an ox for all you mind. 
I wouldn't treat a dead dog the way you do me. You 
think I'm just here for you to wipe your feet on and it 
ain't square." 

''But," she answered mildly; "I thought you were 
going to kill me?" 

''I can't do it/' he declared. "I wish to blazes I could, 
but I can't You deserve it all right but I can't do it 
I'm only a door-mat; I ain't a man hardly." 

"Oh, I deserve it," she agreed. "I know that But 
if you will not kill me, go to town for the doctor. There 
is perhaps some chance of life still, for I thought I 
felt his heart beat just now." 

"Not I," said Deegan staring. "No, ma'am, not I." 

"Either that or kill me," she said. 

"I'd rather kill myself," he answered, and there was 
something in his tone that penetrated the ice of her in- 
difference and made hef feel the agony he experienced. 

She rose and walked towards him and he waited for 
her; almost with defiance. 

"I am very sorry," she said. "I am very — ^sorry. I 
beg your pardon." 

He gasped a little at that ; it was so unexpected. 

"I would do anything to show how sorry I really am," 
she continued; "but I fear there is no possible way to 
make amends." 

"Oh, yes ; there is," he answered and she knew what 
he meant. But she glanced over her shoulder towards 
where her husband lay and Deegan noticing the gesture 
began to be ashamed. 

1 have been very bad and wicked," she said; "and 

260 



«i 



Constance West 



I am being punished for it I wished for revenge and 
I have it. Oh, yes ; I have revenged myself. As for my 
conduct to you, Mr. Deegan, it was very wrong and I 
am sorry and you will never forgive me. But at least 
I am truly sorry and I am heavily punished." 

"Oh, quit," he said. "I ain't mad." 

'*You do not know," she continued; "how clearly I 
see things to-day. I used to think I was justified be- 
cause I had been wronged — as though that gave me a 
right to wrong others. Or you." 

"I will go for the doctor," he said, "because you're the 
only woman I'd ever give a snap of the fingers for. I 
reckon I do love you," he added meditatively; "so I'll 
go. 



"You must not go for that," she said. "You must go 
simply because it is right." 

Deegan stared at her, for this was subtle beyond him. 
But somehow it now seemed to her that she must be very 
strict There was a reaction in her mind, and remem- 
being with shame and with shudders the bargain she had 
once made with him, it seemed necessary to her that 
this time diere must be no possibility of misunderstand- 
ing. 

"What does it matter why?" he asked. "If I go, my 
reason don't cut no ice. And I reckon I'll go on ac- 
count of you or not at all." 

"There has been so much done wrong," said Mrs. 
West, "that I dare risk no more — ^not even to save him." 

"Reckon I'll stay then," said Deegan. 

Mrs. West looked at him sorrowfully, and he saw 
her face in the dim glow of the Aurora, sad and be- 
seeching, unearthly in that changeful light. He steeled 

261 



Constance West 






liis heart against her, and said to himself that he was 
glad his rival lay dying. She had wrapped the uncon- 
scious man in a cloak and now she was trying to make 
him as comfortable as circumstances permitted and to 
staunch the bleeding from his wounds. Deegan watched 
her gloomily. 

He is dying," she said cmce. 

That's what I was after," he answered brutally. 
What did you reckon I shot him for?" 

It was I who killed him," she answered. 

"What do you mean?" he demanded uneasily, and then 
added : "Oh, blazes, if you're going to lode like that I'll 
send the doctor. It won't do no good. But I'll do it 
though I hang through it. If you say you love me?" 

"How can I?" she asked. 

"Oh, I know it would be a He," he answered. "There's 
no error about that. But I'd kinder like to know how 
it sounds just once. You say it and I'll clear for a doctor 
right away." 

She hesitated. She looked down at the dear face in her 
lap. She groaned a little for it was a chance that was 
offered, of yet saving his life. She said in her mind that 
she would, but something rose up in her throat and she 
could not She shook her head. 

"Else he'll die," said Deegan. 

She did not answer and they sat in silence. Above 
the Northern Lights flashed and flickered, running to 
and fro in the skies and throwing a varying radiance 
upon the earth beneath. The first circle of fire spread 
out and stretched all across the northern half of the 
heavens; with long streamers that shot out and back 
again, and changing colours that played continually in 



Constance West 



varying tints. Now and again a great wave of light 
would sweep all through the Aurora, and the streamers 
would dart out still further, and the colours grow more 
vivid, and the heavens and the earth would be illumined 
together. It might have seemed as though the gods re- 
joiced in high heaven and hung out signals of glad tid- 
ings to all the starry universe around. 

"Oh, well," said Deegan. "Reckon must be, must be ; 
since you're so set on it. Will you come to the hang- 
ing?" 

Without waiting for an answer, either of gratitude or 
in reply to his bitter gibe, he went away quickly. By 
the light of the Aurora she saw him go and disappear 
quickly on the track towards town. Now she was alone 
with him she loved and a strange content possessed her 
and she whispered in his ear that she loved him — ^had al- 
ways loved him even in the depths of her hate and long- 
ing for revenge. 

So in the black darkness^ when the Aurora had died 
away and the dawn had not yet come, the sleepy doctor 
found her. He did what he could there on the open 
prairie. Then he lifted the still unconscious man into 
the light cart he had come in and together they returned 
slowly to the town. 



263 



CHAPTER XXIX 



JUST as the sun rose they reached their destination, 
and without delay John Leigh was removed to a 
bed in a comfortable room at Cameron's hotel. 
Recent events, concerning which rumours had 
already reached him, seemed to indicate the removal o£ 
Deegan's competition, and, overjoyed at this turn of For- 
tune's whed, Cameron did all he could for the comfort 
of his rival's victim. 

''You will take charge, then,'' said the doctor, turn- 
ing to Mrs. West when he had done everything in his 
power for his patient She did not answer immediately, 
and he added with a touch of sharpness in his manner at 
what he thought her hesitaticHi, "It is necessary; he needs 
constant attention and there is no one at hand but you/' 
"Yes," she answered then ; "oh, yes ; I will take charge." 
She did not say anything further, but to her mind this 
placing her husband in her charge appeared as a sign that 
at last the past was to be the past ; forgotten and forgiven. 
She felt that no longer was there any barrier between 
them, but that now, after so many weary years, she stood 
again in her rightful place. With a caressing gesture she 
smoothed a tiny roughness from the pillow while the 
doctor, satisfied at her acceptance of the charge, gave her 
elaborate directions. She listened with care and then he 
went away, leaving her alone with her patient. Sitting 
down by the bed-side she looked about her, almost with 

264 



Constance West 



an air of content; for after the last stormy days this 
little room that held them, together and alone, seemed the 
very ideal of peace and full of promise of quiet happiness 
to come. The sight of her husband lying so helpless and 
needing her so badly, dependent on her for everything 
after so long a separation, intensified this impression. 
She felt that here at least they were together, that here 
nothing could come between them. 

She moved softly about the room doing what was 
necessary. As she went about these duties she looked 
lovingly at him, quiescent, helpless, enveloped in white 
bandages ; and longing to express her love in actions, she 
rejoiced in the charge she held. In reaction from the 
despair of the night before tilings took on a rose-colour 
and she imagined that now everything would go smoothly. 
She said to herself that perhaps all had been for the 
best since things had so worked that now she was his 
nurse. What better opportunities for renewed trust, for 
reborn confidence, could there be than the long hours of 
convalescence? They would learn together to forget and 
in the shelter of her patient care love should grow again 
and for the future thrive in perfect trust. She had many 
happy dreams as she sat in this little quiet room, alone 
with him whose very life depended on her care. She 
anticipated with delight each moment when there was 
some duty to be done, a bandage to be arranged or a tem- 
perature to be noted. Although she felt little temptation 
to sleep, she was very exhausted. Her mind was a little 
dulled so that she found it easy to admit excuses for her- 
self, and she dreamed ; imagining that out of evil good had 
come as one might expect figs from thistles. She forgot 
that this is the Law : that all things done beneath the sun 



265 



Constance West 



must be paid for ; some one way and some another, some 
sooner and some later, but for all indubitably a final pay>- 
ment in full. 

The day passed quietly enough with her. She knew 
nothing of the eager gossip that buzzed through the little 
settlement, where ordinarily an extra letter in the mail 
was food for a week's comment. But of that nothing 
reached her, for when the doctor came he spoke only of 
lus patient and she conversed with no one else. Nor did 
she leave the bedside or even take sleep except at odd 
moments when her husband seemed easier than usuaL 
Several of the women made little attempts to penetrate to 
the sick room, declaring that Mrs. West must need rest ; 
but all such offers she firmly declined, declaring herself 
quite competent to do all that was necessary. 

"You will break down yourself," said the doctor to her 
on the morning of the second day, but she shook her head 
almost indignantly. 

"Not till he is quite out of danger," she answered 
quickly. 

"Well, well, as you like," said the doctor, who had been 
examining the sufferer with great care and minuteness. 
"As you like," he repeated abstractedly. He was about 
to add something, but checked himself, remembering how 
keen and patient was the interest she took in the injured 
man. The doctor, though he did not understand what it 
was or choose to question her, was yet quite aware that 
there must be some connection between them. He did 
not wish to inquire too closely for fear of losing a com- 
petent and careful nurse, and now for the same reason he 
checked the words on the tip of his tongue. Soon after 
he went away. 



Constance West 



In the evening he returned and went again to see his 
patient^ who was still unconscious most of the time and 
very weak. There was nothing he could do except see 
that favourable progress was being made, and yet he 
fidgeted about the room and took several occasions to 
praise her nursing, till at last Mrs. West became aware 
that he had something to say which he found difficult. 
She wondered what it was, and instantly she dreaded lest 
it might be something to disturb the peace that had been 
upon her these two days. It was dear he would not go 
till he had spoken and she braced herself for the shock. 
She did not attempt to guess what it was, but a sudden 
sick fear swept through her so that she could hardly retain 
her composure. She glanced at the doctor, at Ihe small 
room grown familiar within forty-eight hours, a room 
that would always be to her a memory of peace after 
storm, and then at the suffering man whom she had 
tended so well and faithfully. She spoke with a sense 
of finality. 

'What is it, doctor?" she asked. 

'Oh, nothing, nothing,'' he answered nervously and 
took up his hat. "And a better nurse," he said, "no one 
could find ; no, not in Winnipeg Hospital.*' 

"What is it?" she asked again. 

"If he lives," he said, "the credit will be yours. And 
so I told her." 

"Her? Who?" she asked, and knew the blow about to 
fall. 

"Annie, Annie LeigK, his daughter, you know. She 
heard and rode over to the Icelander's to ask me, so I 
was bound to tell her all about it." He paused, took up 
a medicine bottle and examined it carefully ; then added 



Hi 



.26^ 



Camtance West 



in a detached manner of criticism : "'A nice girl, a real 
nice girl, tyut she has a temper of her own all right" 

'^What did she say?" 

"She is coming to-morrow." 

"WeH, she can go back again," flashed Mrs. West 

''She has been nursing Arthur Briscoe, you know, and 
is pretty well played out I advised her to take a rest, 
but she said she would come to-morrow." He hesitated a 
Httle, awkwardly as though expecting further protest and 
then made for the door. "But after all," he added, "she 
is his daughter, you know, and so has, one might say, a 
legal right so to speak. One must not forget that." 

"Of course we must not forget that," echoed Mrs. 
West "There is the question of right — of legal right- 
to be considered." 

"And you need a rest," said the doctor, encouraged at 
this sign of agreement "Need it badly, too. So it's just 
as well maybe." 

"Maybe," repeated Mrs. West again, and the doctor 
felt glad that she was taking her threatened deposition 
so quietly. He even blamed himself for an undefined 
impression he had had that Annie's appearance was likely 
to lead to a serious disagreement. "You see, she seemed 
so set on nursing him I quite expected there would be real 
l)ad trouble," as he observed later on. Now, tfierefore, 
be felt very relieved at her easy reception of the news 
and cast about in his mind to say something that might 
please her. So he praised her nursing a little while ; she 
listened in silence and then he added : "I hear they have 
track of Deegan." 

"Track of Deegan?" she said bewildered. "Why? 
Who?" 



' 



268 



Constance West 



"The police, of course ; they've been hunting for him, 
you know." 

"Hunting for him?" she echoed in surprise, for before 
it had not occurred to her that the attempted murder of 
John Leigh would put Deegan in serious jeopardy. "For 
this?" she said with horror. 

"Of course," he said impatiently. "Do you think we 
let people get shot like this and never say a word? The 
police have been hunting for him everjrwhere." 

She did not answer and he went away. She sat down 
on a chair close by and it no longer seemed to her that 
peace abode in that little room. She was oppressed with 
fear of what was next to happen; of the further conse- 
quences of her deeds. She saw nothing clearly, but was 
vaguely yet terribly afraid, like an animal trapped, ex- 
pecting it knows not what of ill and suffering. 

"How things do go on happening," she exclaimed with 
a distinct sense of injustice. Now she desired nothing 
so much as to lead a new life of peace and quietness, and 
yet these past deeds seemed to threaten to arise again and 
thrust her back into strife and tumult. "One thing after 
another," she muttered. '*What must I do if Deegan is 
captured? And Annie, too. But Annie is a kind, good 
girl. I think she will understand and forgive the past." 

She looked towards her husband and going softly to his 
side smoothed his pillow and did little unnecessary things 
that she thought might perhaps increase his comfort She 
did them all with extreme lightness of touch, and yet with 
an air that spoke wholly of restrained streng^ and force- 
ful energy. 

She shall not take him from me," she said aloud. 
She shall not, shall not, shall not." 

269 



44 



Constance West 



As she bent above him he stirred and mumbled to him- 
self. The words were not distinguishaUe, though she 
tried hard to make them out Then she stooped still 
nearer to him, whispering '^Connie" in his ear, and she 
smiled with triumph when he caught up the name and 
repeated it over and over again. She spread out her 
arms over the bed as though to shield him from some 
harm, or as though to warn off some intruder. 

"And she has her Arthur," she murmured. "He should 
be enough for her. She must not interfere with us." 

None the less she was uneasy and she took to pacing up 
and down the room, though with infinite softness of 
tread and every precaution to avoid disturbing the sick 



man. 

u 



Yet she must feel that I have wronged her," she 
muttered after long silence. "Deeply, deeply, and she 
must fed that Yet she will forgive; she is a good g^rl, 
she will, she must I will tell her I am sorry ; I will beg 
her pardcHi. Oh, she must forgive me then." She 
paused. She stood by the bedside in an unconscious at- 
titude of defiance and her face took on a darker look. 
"And if not," she said slowly, "I will tell her all the truth 
and show who really has the better right to be here." 



270 



CHAPTER XXX 



UNTIL the morning of the next day Mrs. West 
was left undisturbed. Though John Leigh's 
condition was still very serious, it had improved 
slightly, thanks to her patient care. During 
her vigil by his bedside Mrs. West found ample oppor^ 
tunity for thinking and in those long, quiet hours she 
was not able to resist the thoughts and memories that 
swarmed in upon her mind. She remained fully deter- 
mined not to yield her privilege of position, and though 
she chiefly trusted to Annie's kindness yet in the recesses 
of her mind was always present the memory of her secret 
to be used in case of necessity. 

"It is my right," she said to herself and yet shuddered 
at the thought of the distress and sorrow such a dis- 
closure of her mother's life must cause to Annie. "Be- 
sides, I have injured her so much already," she murmured 
to herself. She repeated many times in her mind that no 
such necessity would arise, that Annie would be merci- 
ful, would forgive her, must forgive her. It seemed to 
Mrs. West that Annie was too good and kind to refuse 
forgiveness. Perhaps it was some sense of her own past 
hardness and the misery it had caused, that made faer so 
certain of Annie's mercy; perhaps really there existed 
more doubt in her mind than she would confess even to 
herself. Several times she planned little speeches of re- 



271 



Constance West 



pentance that must^ she felt, touch Annie's heart and she 
took a kind of pleasure in her determination to express 
openly her sorrow. It was at least one step towards 
making amends. "And, after all, Annie is not at all 
hard/' said Mrs. West to hersell 

Waiting Annie's appearance with this degree of nervous 
anxiety, expecting to see her every time the door opened 
or there was a movement in the corridor outside, it is no 
wonder that when the girl did come Mrs. West was en* 
tirely unprepared. She had taken up a little sewing with 
the feeling that the monotonous occupation might soothe 
her excitement, and her reel of cotton had fallen, rolling 
under the bed. She had to go down on her hands and 
knees to recover it, and as she rose again she faced Annie 
standing in the doorway. 

"Oh," she cried, taken by surprise and cast about in her 
mind for some appropriate phrase. 

Then Annie spoke, and the bitter word made Mrs. West 
start and flush and then go very pale. 

"Shameless," she said in a low whisper that her father 
might not be disturbed. "Oh, have you no shame that 
you stay here?" 

"I am nursing him," answered Mrs. West, a sudden 
consciousness of guilt weighing on her tongue ; and yet 
with an anger at the other's manner of blazing oMitempt. 

"Nursing him?" repeated Annie with infinite scorn. 
''Why, if he came back to consdousness and found you 
here, the shock might — " 

She went on tip-toe to the bed and gazed down at the 
inanimate figure, the face hidden by cross bandages. She 
turned to Mrs. West, her eyes afire. She did not speak, 
but she motioned to the door with a superb gesture. 



272 



Constance West 



"] 



it' 



1 am nursing him/' repeated Mrs. West sullenly. 

'Not now," answered Annie. "Oh, how can you stay 
here to watch what you have done ?" 

'I did not shoot him," came the hurried reply. 
'You did not pull the trigger, perhaps. But I know. 
I do not understand why, but Arthur has told me, Jim 
Cross has told me. I know who has done all these things, 
who caused the burning of the farm^ the shooting, the — 
attempt to ruin Arthur. I do not know how you could or 
why, but I do know the police ought to be hunting for 
you and not for your wretched accomplice. Now go— 
and quietly, or you may disturb him." 

"I will not go. I am his nurse. What do you know 
of nursing? You are too young — ^he might die." 

"You shall not nurse him another minute. You have 
done enough harm." 

"I will not go. I am his nurse. I have a right — ^the 
best right. Do you hear — I have a right?" 

"You shall go," repeated Annie, to whom this proclama- 
tion of a right was meaningless, "though I have to tell the 
men and have you carried out by main force." 

The two women faced each other with direct and 
furious eyes. Both breathed quickly and both vcriced 
their rage in gentle whispers, since neither forgot for 
even one moment that the sick man must not be disturbed. 

"You dare not," retorted Mrs. West. "If you do, there 
is something I can tell. I have nursed him three days." 

"You should not if I had known before." 

"The doctor says that I have nursed him well — ^that 
'he would have died but for my care." 

"You deceived me once — once I would have trusted you 
with anything or everything. I talked to you— oh, oh — I 

273 s 



Constance West 



talked to you of Arthur and you were planning such 
things against him. I do not understand you, but you 
must go— you shall go." 

Mrs. West did not answer, for there was a truth in 
this accusation that held her speechless. She remained 
silent and Annie watched her with implacable resolve. 
So they remained for a moment or two, and the girl's 
face showed no sign of weakening. An anger began to 
grow in Mrs. West's heart, but she determined to try first 
an appeal for forgiveness. After all, if she expressed 
her sorrow and repentance, the sorrow and repentance she 
so truly felt, surely Annie could not but forgive her. It 
would cost her an eflFort to confess her wrong-doing like 
that, but she was fully prepared. After all, Annie had 
always seemed gentle and kind ; surely she must recognize 
the sincerity of expressed repentance — surely she could 
not withhold forgiveness in the face of open confession. 

"Listen, Annie," she said gently, her voice losing its 
tone of sharp defiance. "I am older than you — much 
older — ^there are things perhaps you do not understand. 
I know I have done wrong — ^very wrong — ^but you do not 
know how truly I repent. You must forgive me, Annie. 
I will try and make amends and undo the past as much as 
I can. I am very, very sorry; and now, Annie, I, who 
am old enough to be your mother, I ask of you forgive- 
ness. If you will try and trust — " 

*'I do not want to listen," interrupted Annie. "I know 
what you have done. Now it only remains for you to go 
away." 

'You do not understand. I have been wronged, too." 
Who has burned your farm ? Or kidnapped you ? Or 
eiiticed you into a trap ? Or tempted you to commit mur- 






274 



Constance West 



der? Or played on one man's affections to ruin another? 
Or—'' 

"Stop, oh, stop," cried Mrs. West, and put up her hands 
as though to ward off these rushing accusations. "Have 
I done all that?" she asked. 

"Have you not?" demanded Annie, and Mrs. West did 
not answer. Annie came nearer. Her eyes flashed with 
a new fire and she towered above the older woman, who 
sank down before her rage, crouching on a chair. "EHd 
you not?" she demanded, hissing in whispers the words 
that she could have shrieked with the agony that inspired 
them. "Did you not try to thrust Arthur, my Arthur, 
Arthur Briscoe back into the hell of drink?" 

Still Mrs. West made no answer but her lips moved 
convulsively. She put out her hand and clutched at the 
gpirl's dress, and in her mind there passed the -fleeting 
thought that thus had once her husband caught at hers. 
Annie snatched it quickly from her, and this again seemed 
to her a replica of her own long past action. 

"Ah, but," she murmured with dry lips, "you must, you 
must forgive." 

"Who could forgive such things?" answered Annie, and 
yet again, with a strange awe, Mrs. West recognized the 
ghost of a long dead moment. 

"But you must," she insisted; "it is so wrong not to 
forgive. Look ! I know I did wrong, but I ask your par- 
don on my knees." And as she spoke she slid from her 
chair to a kneeling position. 

"I am not a man to be played on like that," said Annie 
contemptuously. 

She went to the door and opening it stood outside in the 
passage, beckoning to Mrs. West. Though not quite un- 



275 



Constance West 



derstanding the motive, Mrs. West joined her, and Annie 
closed the door so that they both stood in the passage just 
outside. Annie still held the handle of the door, ready to 
return. "We must not risk disturbing him," she said. 

"No," repeated Mrs. West dully; "there must be no 
risk of disturbing him." 

"If you are not out of the house in thirty minutes," 
continued Annie, speaking very slowly, "I shall tell all I 
know. And then I do not think the town will be a healthy 
place for you to stay in." 

"Is there nothing I can say that will touch you ?" said 
Mrs. West, and the anger hidden in her heart began to 
grow. She felt again that this was an interloper, and she 
was hungry — she starved — ^to continue her care of the sick 



man. 
it 



Absolutely nothing," said Annie with a hard decision 
in her tones. "You are bad and shameless. You must 

go- 

"Though I tell you how sorry I ami?" asked Mrs. West 
again, and in her mind, she said that this was Annie's last 
chance. Her face lost its sad and downcast expression and 
began to flush red with her rising anger. She held her- 
self more upright. "You are very young," she said. "I 
tell you that no one who has done wrong has ever re- 
pented more deeply or suffered more keenly. You do 
not understand all the circumstances ; but, I beg of you, I 
implore you, humbly, humbly and deeply — " 

"It is no use," said Annie inflexibly. 'Tfou talked me 
over once to believe in you, but not again. I know your 
wickedness now." 

"I only ask to nurse him till he is out of danger," said 
Mrs. West. Her tone was gloomy and she spdke more 

276 



Constance West 



from a desire to exhaust every other expedient before the 
last, rather than from any hope of success. Annie shook 
her head and Mrs. West spoke again. "I do not wish to 
do it," she said, and in her voice was a note of sombre 
warning that impressed Annie a little, though her purpose 
never wavered. To her Mrs. West was simply a danger 
and an evil that must be removed at all risks. There was 
silence for a few moments while Mrs. West hesitated be- 
fore she spoke the irrevocable words that would strike 
down Annie's resistance, prove who had the right to the 
post of nurse and declare to the daughter her mother's 
shame. 

"In half an hour from now," said Annie and held out 
her father's watch which she had picked up as she left 
the room. 

"You will not let me nurse him?" repeated Mrs. West, 
and the words to declare herself his first and only wife 
trembled on her lips. 

'Never," answered Annie. 

'Very well," said Mrs. West and she came still nearer. 
Annie held the watch in her hand and the chain hung 
down, from its end dangling a little locket. Mrs. West 
saw it and the sight of it stirred old memories. She knew 
the locket well — ^who better? — ^it had been her own gift to 
him before their marriage and once it had held her own 
portrait. Somehow the circumstance affected her strong- 
ly. She put out her hand as though to take it, but Annie 
swiftly drew it away. 

"Don't," she said. 

"Why not?" asked Mrs. West, for the moment sup- 
posing that Annie had some glimmering of the truth. 

"It holds my mother's photograph," said Annie softly. 



"J 



277 



Conitance West 



''How then do you suppose I could let you nurse him? 
Even if you were not so bad, it is my place and right 
since she is dead/' 

It was a direct challenge and so Mrs. West took it. It 
surprised her that she perceived in herself a reluctance to 
take it up. This annoyed her even through the pain she 
felt to know her portrait displaced. She called up her 
resolution, thinking that she must not give way to any 
weakness. 

"At least I will have some of my rights," she mut- 
tered ; "though he did take from me so much." 

"You shall not pass, I will call the men," said Annie, 
who had not caught the muttered words, but perceived a 
movement as to return. 

"Let me nurse him," said Mrs. West, "or I shall say 
something that will make you miserable all your life." 

Annie held her head higher. 

"Say what you like," she answered. "I shall call the 
men in eighteen minutes." 

In Mrs. West there was a struggle ; often she decided 
to speak, as often she hesitated anew. She intended to 
speak, she wished to speak, she held it weak folly to hesi- 
tate ; and yet something held her back, controlled her will 
almost against herself. So often lately she had followed 
her own desire and found it lead her into strange places. 
She had, too, an odd feeling of fellowship, of kindred 
with this girl, who, like herself, might find existence 
poisoned on life's threshold. And already she had once 
at least striven hard to injure her. Deliberately she tried 
to force herself to speak but she could not. She shrank 
from it. ^e had a clear vision of what such a discovery 
must mean t\Annie, proud and upright, with ideals bom 

\ 278 



\ 



Constance West 



of solitude. The words died on her lips, the intention died 
in her heart — ^and from the death was resignation born and 
true repentance. 

"You have now five minutes," said Annie. 

Mrs. West started to know she had been wrestling so 
long in that silent struggle. Without a word she turned 
and went down the stairs, with head bent and blinding 
tears so that she stumbled, and Annie watched her with- 
out pity. At the bottom she stopped and glanced upwards 
with faint, involuntary appeal ; but Annie still stood im- 
placable, holding the watch in her hand. 

She went on along the passage and out by the back way 
through the hotel yard, and on over the prairie till she 
reached a little group of willows, surrounding a small 
slough. There she lay down because she could go no 
further, and remained tearless but shaking with dry sobs, 
remembering with a faint but clear recollection how a lit- 
tle while before she had heard without pity another 
woman's sorrowful sobbing. It seemed to her that all she 
had made others suffer was returning upon herself with a 
keener edge and a sharper pang. 



\ 



279 



CHAPTER XXXI 



MRS. WEST lay still, as miserable, as motion- 
less, through the long hours of the day, heed- 
ing nothing, careless of the hot rays of the 
afternoon sun, careless of the cold as the 
night drew near. Sadly she lay, watching the roofs of 
the village that were plainly visible in the distance, and 
picturing to herself the room that held her husband. She 
hoped that the doctor would go there early so that Annie 
might receive all necessary instructions without any de- 
lay, and sometimes she troubled herself with wondering 
whether this thing would be done or that. But mostly 
she lay in a kind of stupor of despair, remembering only 
how she had sinned, conscious only of the penalty she 
suffered. It shows well how absolutely crushed she was 
by late events that she felt no anger against Annie. A 
little while before, lesser things would have thrown her 
into a frenzy of passion, but to-day she endured with 
meekness. 

So heedless was she of outward impressions that she 
did not know the sun was near to setting, or that a man 
was approaching her. He came cautiously, slinking from 
bluff to slough, from slough to bluff, in the fashion of a 
man with keen reasons for avoiding observation. At last 
he reached the willow bushes where she lay, and from 
behind one of them he watched her with surprise and 
aching sympathy. He wondered greatly whether there 

280 



Constance West 



were anything he could do to help her, and in the sight 
of her misery he forgot the anger he had held against her. 

"Say," he whispered. "Mrs. West, ma'am, what's on 
now r 

He crept forward so as to be nearer to her, but still 
she did not hear him. He touched her on the shoulder 
and she glanced round in an uninterested way, showing no 
surprise to recognize Deegan again. 

"See here," he said. "Don't you take on, don't fret 
that way. After all, it ain't no manner of use punching a 
dead bull." 

So desolate and lonely did Mrs. West feel, an impres- 
sion intensified by the vast bare prairies bounded only by 
the coming night, that she felt very grateful for his words 
of consolation, rough and uncouth as they were. She 
looked at him with a little interest and saw that he him- 
self was in evident trouble. His eyes were restless and 
bloodshot, and the flesh hung loosely on his once plump 
cheeks. His clothes were no longer neat, his shirt was 
torn and stained, while his gay tie had disappeared alto- 
gether. He presented a very different appearance now 
from the prosperous townsman of only a few days before. 
She noticed that his boots were tied up with binder twine. 

"But you^" she said ; "have you not been home ? You 
look— look— " 

Sort of a tramp," he answered with a little laugh. 
Reckon maybe I do." 

"But why?" she asked, groping in her mind that was 
so absorbed in her own troubles. In spite of what the 
doctor had told her she had never really understood how 
serious his position was. 

Oh, I've been out on the loose a while," he answered 






tit 



281 



Constance West 



quickly, seeing she did not quite realize the state of affairs. 
Again that vein of delicacy that ran, deep and solitary, 
through his tangled character, asserted itself. He spoke 
quickly for fear she might guess the truth and under-, 
stand that he suffered for the things she had made him do. 
"I'm all right," he said; "nothing the matter with me. 
What about you ?" 

"Oh," she cried, his ruse succeeding instantly. "They 
have turned me out, they have turned me out; she has 
taken my place and in all the world I am alone." 

"No, ma'am," he said gently. "Not aloine while I live." 

"Oh, you," she answered him, not with any contempt 
but with an indifference so complete that it hurt him as 
much — or more. She forgot his presence soon and went 
on murmuring to herself : "Turned out, turned out. She 
ha5 taken my place like her mother before her." 

"How are you fixed, ma'am ?" asked Deegan. "Where 
are you goin' tonight ?'* 

"I don't know," she answered absently, but he repeated 
the question, thrusting it on her attention till she roused 
herself a little and said impatiently : "Oh, let me alone. I 
don't know. How am I fixed, do you say ? I have what I 
stand in and-—" She emptied her pocket on the grass. 
"There is my wealth," she said, and added, recognizing 
the sympathy in his voice, "You are kind to trouble." 

He counted the money with care and then returned it 
to her. 

"I have $300," he said. "Grabbed all the cash I could 
before I cleared What are you goin' to do, ma'am?" 

"I do not know and I do not care." 

He looked at her long and carefully, noting the dull 
despair in her manner and yet pleased to know that he 

282 



^ 



Constance West -^ 



had roused her enough to make her answer. And she 
had said that he was very kind. A sort of excitement, a 
restrained eagerness began to appear in his manner and he 
fidgeted nervously before he spoke again. 

"They have turned you out ?" he said. 

"Yes." 

"They have cast you off?*' 

"Yes." 

"You never want to see them again?" 
- "They never want to see me again." 

"And a pretty slack outfit they are," he cried, repress- 
ing other words that would have seemed to him more ap- 
propriate. "A dirty, mean trick," he cried again with 
heat 

"But you know what I have dolie?'*'she said with some 
surprise. 

"What's that matter? If I was him, do you reckon I'd 
let a bushelful of things like that trouble me one little bit? 
No, ma'am, not by a long way." 

She continued to look at him in grave surprise, wrink- 
ling her brows in thought. 

"But," she said, after a pause, "I have ruined you, too. 
And treated you as badly— or worse." 

"That don't amount to anything at all," he answered 
earnestly, "I may have felt sore — ^maybe so, maybe so — 
but not after I saw you was feelin' bad. No, ma'am, not 
me. If you feel bad, that wipes all out.'* He made a 
sweeping gesture with his hand. "It clears the board," 
he said briefly. 

She listened with a feeling of admiratioin for a con- 
stancy so complete, with a strange feeling of comfort, too, 
to know that all the world did not hold her abhorred, and 

283 



Constance West 



with an odd, almost freakish desire to discover how far 
bis devotion would carry him* 

"But I was not sorry about you/' she said, and noticed 
that he winced a little. She continued: "When I first 
met you, you were prosperous and respected. Now you 
are practically ruined and I understand the mounted police 
are searching for you. And it is my doing." 

"Not all," he answered. "I took a hand myself. But 
anyway, that don't cut no ice. That fellow's gone back on 
you. I ain't You played it pretty low down on us both. 
I ain't denying that — ^it's a fact, you did so. So he's 
gone back on you but I ain't. That shows, as I figure it, 
that I love you more'n he does. Mrs. West, ma'am, I've 
asked you to marry me three times and this makes four. 
Will you, ma'am ?" 

"After all that I have done?" she asked with a kind of 
wonder, and also with an eagerness to hear his answer 
that he saw and that set him wildly hoping. 

"Yes," he answered, and he was well aware that the 
prompt answer pleased and relieved her. There was the 
ghost of a smile on her lips and her face was brighter. 
He went on rapidly. "We can skip across the border. Or 
you can train to Denver and I'll meet you there. It ain't 
no trouble to me to dodge them mounted police, but you 
might play out." 

His hope was so plain and his manner so eager that 
she recognized suddenly that she had g^ven him an im- 
pression she by no means desired. For in wishing to test 
how far he still loved her, she was actuated by only one 
motive. In her mind had risen a thought of which she 
had been but half conscious yet which nevertheless had 
made her speak as she did — that if Deegan could love her 

284 



Constance West 



so long and so deeply and forgive her so willingly, so per- 
haps might Jdin Leigh when he returned to oonscious- 
ness. Now seeing the expectant eagerness in his face she 
was touched with pity that she must give him a fresh 
disappointment, do him a new injury. 

"But I am married, my husband is still alive," she said 
hastily, giving the most conclusive reason she could 
think of. 

"Yes," said Deegan regretfully; "them shot-guns are 
dandies for hittin', you can't hardly miss if you want to ; 
but likely as not there ain't no really permanent effects 
after all." 

"But aren't you — ^if he dies — died — it would have been 
murder." 

"He meant to kill me anyway. But that don't amount 
to much ; I'll do more'n that if you say so. Mrs. West, 
ma'am, I love you and I don't reckon to go back on what 
I say. He has turned you out. Come to me, then, come 
to me and you shall never want for anything I can give 
you." He held out his hands to her and his face was 
transfigured with emotion. "And I have proved I love 
you," he said softly. 

She saw clearly the eagerness in his face as he waited 
for her answer. And she was tempted, deeply tempted, 
for she felt very weak and lonely, cut off from all she 
desired. Her heart was sad and sore within her; in- 
stinctively it longed for healing and consolation. But for 
j Deegan, she stood absolutely alone, a figure of scorn and 
hatred (she said to herself) to him to whom she was near- 
est by natural ties. That prime necessity of all, that deep- 
est of all needs, the need for affection, to love and to be 
loYed, rose strongly in fier. She remembered Annie's 



28s 



' 



Constance West 



abrupt anger ; it seemed to her that for ever she was out- 
cast from her husband's side^ that as Annie had thought 
so would he. At her side, waiting eagerly for her reply, 
was one who at least had proved his affection ; who knew 
all and yet still offered her his love. And she had in- 
jured him, was it not her plain duty to make him amends? 

"No, ho," she cried aloud and started with surprise to 
hear her own decision. 

"But you've left him," said Deegan eagerly, for her 
long pause had increased his hopes. "For good and all," 
he urged again. 

"Yes," she answered dully ; "for good, for ill, for ever." 

"We can get a divorce — sl good, square, legal divorce — 
as easy as roUin' off a log if that's what's bothering you. 
In Oklahcxna, you know, or somewhere." 

"It is not that," she answered. 

"Then come with me. Come." 

"You see — ^I love him still," she answered, and then 
Deegan understood that his pleadings were hopeless. 

The darkness came to them, wrapping the wide prairie 
in its soft arms. At a distance a twinkling light or two 
showed where the town lay. Mrs. West watched long- 
ingly this far-off glimmer that typified to bfrr all that she 
had lost — that seemed in a way a tiny link still binding 
her to the past. From the darkness came Deegan's voice, 
gloomy and sombre. 

"Sure as shootin'," he said, "you'll go back to him." 

"Ah, no," she cried and put up her hands to soothe her 
leaping heart "He cannot love me again; that is not 
possible." 

She could not see him now but she heard his voice, his 
words coming slowly ; to her fancy charged with a verita- 

286 



Constance West 



ble coldness so that she ^ivered as be spoke. "You don't 
know," he said, "the thoughts that I have. You've gone 
back on me, and I can't do a thing though I've tried. 
There's only the hotel now. And I can't go there." He 
paused and she dared make no answer. He cried out 
suddenly : "He may get you, he shan't get my hotel that 
I made and built myself. That's mine, all mine, and no 
other man shall touch it." 

"Is there nothing I can do to make amends, nothing?" 
cried Mrs. West. For almost the first time her mind was 
stirred from herself and her own sorrows to understand 
the agony another suffered. "Oh," she cried, weeping, 
"I have always loved him even when I hated him — most 
when I hated him." 

He sighed as he listened and her tears fell fast — ^gra- 
cious tears that were for another's pain. 

"God help me," she said ; "and there is nothing I can 
do." 

"Nothin'," he answered simply ; "thank you all the same. 
But not even God Almighty can undo the past." 

She shrank together at that saying, for it sounded 
dreadful in her ears. He moved away into the darkness 
and soon even the sound of his footsteps ceased so that 
she was quite alone. Solitary in the blackness of the 
night the little distant light twinkled at her with a faint 
message of hope. 



287 



CHAPTER XXXII 



MRS. WEST had not moved from her position 
when an hour later she again heard Deegan's 
voice softly calling to her. 
"I thought you had gone/' she said as he 
drew near. 

"I've come back," he said. "It's too soon yet for my 
job." She made him no answer and presently he con- 
tinued: "Say, I can show you how to get even with 
them if you want to." 

"With whom?" she asked, though she knew well 
enough. 

"A while back I happened across a green young Eng- 
lishman from Daly's. He'd got lost He had a message 
for the doctor that that young fellow Briscoe's gone bad 
again — ^seems soon as Annie Leigh cleared to her pa — and 
you — ^he tried to get around a bit and got cold and now 
he's a most mighty sick man. So I said I knew where the 
doc. was, over at the Icelander's, and would take the mes- 
sage, and the young greenhorn went home again. But 
he says Briscoe's terrible sick and will die sure thing 
unless some one who knows takes hold right away. So 
now you know. What are you goin' to do about it ?" 

"That is owing to me, also," she muttered under her 
breath. 

"It's your say," continued Deegan, who had not under- 
stood her half uttered words. "You can tell the girl if 

288 



Constance West 



you like and she'll be in a fix then, for she won't know 
which to go to, and you can watch her wriggle or chip in 
to help. Or you can lie low and say nothin'. Then he'll 
die likely and you'll be quits with Annie Leigh." 

He laughed with extraordinary harshness as he spoke 
and she echoed him with mirth as discordant as his own. 

"I'm beaten," she said. "It does not even tempt me. 
There is only one thing I could do. It's no merit, for I 
cannot help it ; and, oh, I am so tired of being wicked." 

"I don't — " began Deegan. "How do you — I don't 
follow.'^ 

"I must go and nurse Briscoe myself and tell them 
their note to the doctor miscarried. I am so sorry, Mr. 
Deegan, for what I have done to you — so sorry — ^but not 
even God Almighty can undo the past." 

"Don't you want to get even with Annie Leigh," he 
asked disappointedly. 

"I shall never get even with Annie," she answered. 
"But now I'm going to try." She put out her hand in the 
darkness and took his. "Good-bye," she said, 

"Good-bye," he answered. 

They turned and walked away in opposite directions; 
she rapidly to where Arthur Briscoe lay wrestling almost 
in the throes of death; he sauntering slowly toward the 
silent town, where there was neither light nor sound to 
show that any yet stirred. 

"Now I must go and bum the hotel," said Deegan to 
himself as he went slowly along the trail to the town. 
"And then I shall go and walk, for ever and ever. Amen." 
He knew the way well and went on steadily, still murmur- 
ing to himself. "I nearly killed her with my hands about 
her throat/' he said. "But I couldn't. So now—" As 



289 



Comtance West 



he went slowly along he murmured continually to himself : 
''Walk and walk and walk, for ever aiid ever. Amen/' 

He f dt a little like a man in a dream, though indeed the 
dream that he had dreamed so long was now finished and 
done with. But everything seemed to him to bear a touch 
of unreality and it was as though his life had gone back- 
wardSy back twenty years to the days when he had been 
a penniless outcast. He thought of the time when he had 
roved hither and thither, with no care or worry beyond 
the procuring of the next meal, with no need to exert his 
mind about anything. He felt very worn out and he 
wished to go away and wander on ; on and on for ever, 
resting here, perhaps, and staying there, but always mov- 
ing and always untroubled by work or care. 

"There was only her and the hotel," he muttered. "She 
won't have me and no one shall have the hotel. Then 
I'll go back to the road again." 

It presented itself to him as a consolation that no one 
should follow him at the hotel. At least that was his 
and no one should replace him there. His feelings re- 
pulsed by Mrs. West turned to thoughts of his hotel — ^the 
work of his own hands — with a kind of fierceness. 

Sheltered by the night and aided by his intimate ac- 
quaintance with the ground, he made his way to the back 
door of the hotel. He tried it and found it only on the 
latch and though this was to him the greatest help and 
convenience, none the less the suggestion of carelessness 
annoyed him greatly and even served to confirm his pur- 
pose. For a little while he stood there, hesitating and 
listening, and then yielding to a sudden impulse he went 
slowly and cautiously round the hotel, feeling the walls as 
he went, recognizing almost every plank and muttering 



290 



Constance West 



continually to himself. Memories came to him connected 
with almost every step he took. Round this corner was 
an ugly knot-hole that once had vexed him ; he felt for it 
and found it, like meeting with an old, familiar friend. 
Here^ at the comer of the verandah, was a broken rail. 
Billy Benson's rig had done that He remembered how 
indignant he had been and how Billy had tried to excuse 
himself. Was it possible — was it really possible — ^that 
that had happened a bare three months ago? Here, a lit- 
tle further on, was a plank that he remembered well ; in 
shaping it his axe had glanced and gashed his leg — he had 
the scar still. 

Thus he went, slowly circling the building, remember- 
ing almost each separate nail^ walking in the darkness 
with an assured ioot since he knew every inch of the 
ground, every stone or clod of earth, and presently he 
found himself at the back again. 

"Good old hotel,'* he muttered. "Gosh! I don't be- 
lieve you'd like having another boss one little bit better'n 
I would." 

Now he became busy, passing with a wonderful stealthy 
swiftness between the hotel and the stable, carrying huge 
armfuls of fragrant hay till all about the lower part of 
the house it was piled up in great loose heaps. Presently 
he paused and glanced round him at the result of his work 
with satisfaction, "Now for the coal oil," he said aloud. 
He went down to the cellar and presently reappeared with 
a bucket filled with oil which he poured over one of the 
piles of hay. "Nothing like practice," he said grimly. 
"I reckon I'm makin' a better job of it this time." 

This operation he repeated several times till he had 
emptied the barrel of all the oil it contained. Then 



291 



Constance West 



slipping off his shoes he went slowly up the stairs, wip- 
ing to warn any occupants of the house before starting 
the fire. He knew that the flames would spread with 
great rapidity, fed by the oil-sprinkled hay. The first 
room he entered was his own and unoccupied, but even 
in the darkness he could tell that it had been lately dis- 
turbed. 

"Police hunting for clues likely," he muttered, hitting 
on the truth. He went on to the next room. That, too, was 
empty, aiid the third was the one Mrs. West had used. 
At the door he hesitated long, but finally he entered and 
this time he lighted a lamp. He looked about him with 
sad eyes, and with an odd, guilty feeling of intrusion. 
"Seems as though I hadn't ought to be here," he said, 
with one last look that fastened every detail in his mem- 
ory. He noticed on the bureau an odd glove lying. It 
was small and of delicate kid, and he picked it up 
awkwardly, with something like reverence. He looked 
at it carefully, admiring it, noticing its narrow length 
and touching each one of its four buttons in succession. 

"Things might have been kind of different," he mut- 
tered and gently placed the glove inside his coat. "But 
after all, if I am sneakin' round my own house, scary for 
fear of the police, why, it's on account of her. She will 
know I loved her all right and maybe she'll always be a 
bit sorry about it." 

He heard a slight noise behind him just then and turn- 
ing faced in the doorway Pierre, the little Frenchman, his 
mouth gaping with his astonishment. Immediately Dee- 
gan's pistol was in his hand and he said fiercely : 

"If you speak, I'll fire." 

"No^ no, M'sieur," cried Pierre, crouching and holding 



292 



Constance West 



up his hands as though to shelter himself. "No, no, 
M'sieur ; Ah, non" 

"Well, then, shut your mouth/' said Deegan impatient- 
ly, and by a threatening gesture quenched the other's 
voluble protests. "Now, tell me," he continued as Pierre 
began to understand that his life was not to be imme- 
diately sacrificed, "who else is sleeping here ?" 

"Not no one," answered Pierre, whose fear was driving 
from him his English so that he began to scatter French 
phrases through his words. "They have all departed, 
gone, M'sieur." 

"But George — ^the bar-tender?" 

"M'sieurs the police have been here to-day and George 
he departed fast in a hustle." 

"Likely took all the cash with him," observed Deegan. 

^'Certainement" replied Pierre. "M'sieurs the police 
searched everywhere and asked such questions so that all 
departed. But me — I remained." 

"So," said Deegan. "Well, move along, Frenchy." 

Making Pierre precede him, Deegan, who carried the 
lamp in one hand and his pistol in the other, went down 
the stairs. In the passage below he stood still for some 
moments, looking round him with intent interest, raising 
and lowering the lamp at intervals so as to get better 
views of each particular spot. He remembered as though 
it were an hour ago his pride when first he had walked 
along that passage, the hotel's sole owner. 

Pierre watched him with surprise and fear, for the 
piled heaps of hay and the strong smell of coal oil were 
evidence enough of Deegan's intentions. 

"Now," said Deegan, turning on him sharply, "you 
want to skip outer this quicker'n most anything and don't 



293 



Constance West 



you play no monkey tricks or I'll get you, sure as shootm'.< 
Open that door." 

Gladly Pierre obeyed and the fresh night air rushed in, 
rustling the heaped-up hay. 

''May I depart away, M'sieur?" he asked, hesitating on 
the threshold. 

"Mind now, if you say a word, I'll shoot Now dear.'* 

Pierre heeded no second order. With a leap he was 
through the door and his footsteps sounded loudly as he 
fled down the road. A number of dogs, hearing him, 
began to bark. 

"What a racket," exclaimed Deegan angrily. "But I 
reckon he's scared all right — ^scared outer more'n a week's 
growth. I've got to get a move on, though, with them 
dogs all started." 

He put his pistol back in his pocket, drew himself up 
to his full height, swung the lamp he held in a hissing 
circle round his head, and then dashed it against the wall. 
It broke into little pieces and the oil it held scattered in 
a fiery rain. Instantly flames leaped up, roaring in the 
very moment of their birth as they rushed along the piles 
of oil-soaked hay. They ran up the dry partition walls ; 
they took instant hold upon the wooden floor ; they were 
fanned, too, by the draught from the qpen door. In one 
moment, almost, the passage became a burning; fiery 
furnace. 

Deegan ran outside, for already the heat was too great 
to bear, and a flame leaped out after him and burned his 
coat. In the verandah he paused and suddenly pressed his 
lips against the dry wood. 

'Good-bye," he said ; "now I'm a tramp again, a hobo. 



€(i 



294 



Constance West 



a deadbeat again. Good-bye, twenty years. Guess it's 
all over." 

He turned and ran and as he ran the flames from the 
swiftly burning hotel cast a flickering light about him, and 
made an uncertain shadow that went before his feet. But 
he never lodced around or heeded an3rthing. He heard 
voices and a growing noise behind him ; he heard a run- 
ning to and fro and the excited barking of the dogs. He 
went on steadily and swiftly, sometimes slackening to a 
walk, but never stopping. 

Deegan had a strong suspicion that the police would be 
on the look out fdr him at all the railway stations, but he 
knew a spot on the track about six miles distant where 
there was a steep incline so that the trains went up it at a 
reduced speed, and he believed that an eastward freight 
was due there about the time he would arrive. All the 
feelings and instincts of his early life were returning to 
him, fast wiping out the acquired habits of his twenty 
years of prosperity. This did not astonish him in the 
least. It appeared to him that he had sojourned in strange 
places, but that now he was returned to his own. Mrs. 
West, the hotel, all his settled life, seemed to fade into 
the remote distance^ to take on a quality of vague, far- 
distant visions, almost as of something that had happened 
in another existence. It was as though he had escaped 
from an enchanted dream. 

I Presently he reached the railway and chose a position 
about half way up the incline. He had timed himself 
well and had not long to wait before the train appeared 
in the distance, puffing towards him. He crouched down 
so as to see against the sky each car as it passed, and 



295 



Constance West 



presently selecting one, he leaped with skill and jud^ 
ment, alighting in safety and without noise. 

"Dandy jump, that/' said a voice close by. 

"I never miss my jump," answered Deegan boast^illy, 
recognizing that the speaker was a tramp like hxmse»x and 
like himself stealing a ride on the train. "I ain't no greeii 
hand." 

"So I presumed when I saw you jump," answered the 
stranger mildly. "Got a chew ?" 

Deegan handed him a plug of tobacco and then at his 
invitation crawled beneath the tarpaulin that served as a 
shelter both against the weather and against discovery. 
They began to talk together, Deegan inquiring about the 
crew of the train and their attitude toward such unau- 
thorized passengers as themselves. They went on to talk 
about other brakesmen and their ways, the brutality of 
this one, the easy going disposition of another, the mean- 
ness of a third, who would make any tramp he found 
empty his pockets and then throw him off if the results 
were not satisfactory — ^and sometimes if they were. 
Deegan found to his astonishment that a certain "Ginger 
Jim" whom he remembered as particularly hated by the 
tramping fraternity was still an object of terror to them. 
"Threw a feller off goin' at full speed on a down gradient 
and pelted him with coal as far as he could reach only a 
week ago," said Deegan's new friend, bitterly. 

Thus the conversation ran on, drifting from brakesmen 
to the open country with talk about the places where a 
meal was certain, and other places to be avoided; how 
here a vicious dog was kept, but it was all right if you 
could manage to speak to the folk before being chased off ; 
and of how here the man was bitter hard, but if he was 

296 



Constance West 



out of the way the wife could be relied on for an extra 
good meal. So they talked and presently the stranger 
observed, pointing towards a red glare in the sky : 

"Seems like a fire over there." 

"Seems so/' agreed Deegan. 

"Must be a fair size, too. I'd have got off if Td known* 
I always like to be around when there's a fire. 'Most 
always there's somethin' to be picked up and if there 
ain't you can get a meal for miles round by tdlin' about 
it An' it's fun to watch, too." 

"Oh, yes," said Deegan slowly, "it's fun to watch all 
right." 

He began to talk again in the jargon of their profes- 
sion that was all returning to him* with such strange 
rapidity, and his companion answered him with fresh ex- 
periences. The train rattled on its way, the two men 
crouched beneath the tarpaulin gossipped on, growing si- 
lent only when footsteps warned them that some member 
of the train crew was passing along the cars. Continually 
Deegan's hand went to his breast to touch a glove that lay 
hidden there* 



297 



CHAPTER XXXIII 



NEARLY a week passed without further incident 
Under Mrs. West's patient care, that never 
relaxed or slackened for one moment, Briscoe 
soon recovered the ground his impatience had 
lost. It happened that the weather now became stormy 
with strong winds and frequent snowfalls so that com- 
municaticMi with the town was rendered difficult The 
doctor came out once, but Briscoe seemed to be progress- 
ing so favourably that he decided not to come again till 
the weather cleared, unless any unexpected need arose. 

Before leaving, Annie had asked that news of Briscoe's 
progfress might be sent to her regularly. Messages were 
accordingly dispatched whenever occasion served — though 
that was seldom — ^but by Mrs. West's particular request 
nothing was said of her presence. The only news she 
herself received during this time was the doctor's am- 
biguous assurance that her husband showed "no strikingly 
unfavourable symptoms, though his progress was not by 
any means rapid." 

Thus the slow days dragged on. Mrs. West nursed 
Briscoe with a care and devotion not Annie could have 
exceeded ; and waited with outward patience to hear how 
her husband fared, tended by another's hands. Bitter as 
it was to her, she never flinched in the course she had 
chosen, but it was with sickening anxiety that ^ae saw 

298 



Constance West 



each day pass by with no news of whether he yet lived or 
was now dead. 

At last when a full week had passed the weather cleared 
and a hard frost made the roads practicable once more. 
Briscoe was now so far better that he required little care, 
and so Mrs. West had less to occupy her mind. She be- 
gan to feel the suspense too great but reminded herself 
that it was all part of her just reward. That same even- 
ing a stray passer-by was able to say that John Leigh still 
lived. 

Early the next morning she was summoned down stairs 
and found Annie, who had just arrived, waiting in the 
parlour to see her. For the first moment Mrs. West 
dreamed wildly that Annie had relented, had come to for- 
give her and bring her back in reconciliation, and she who 
had been so proud and hard was eager to receive with 
gratitude the smallest favour that might be shown her. 

But her first glance as she entered the room dispelled 
that delusion and she gave way to almost a feeling of 
despair, for she recognized at once the deep and un- 
changed enmity that spoke in the girl's every movement, 
in every pose of her body, that thrilled through the level 
and monotonous tones of her voice as she spoke with no 
attempt at greeting. 

"Mrs. West," she said, "I have come by my father's de- 
sire to request you to return at once. He is — distressed 
that you are not there." 

"Oh," cried Mrs. West, iier despair washed away as 
the warm spring rains wipe out the winter's snow. "Oh, 
how good, how kind. And of you, Annie — " She came 
near, her tongue voluble with gratitude and affection, and 



299 



Constance West 



stopped short abruptly, checked by the girl's unaltered air 
of hostility. 

Neither of them spcke for a moment and Mrs. West 
realized again how her conduct must have aj^eared to 
this girl to excite in her so lasting an anger. In the pause, 
busy as her thoughts were, she yet noted with that strange 
interest in trifles people often show in moments of strong 
emotion, that Annie held in her hand her father's chain, 
her fingers resting caressingly on the little locket 

"Please oblige me by not using my name," said Annie 
coldly ; "and please understand I do not come by my own 
wish. I told my father I considered your presence an in- 
sult to the memory of his wife and my mother. Under 
the circumstances I was unable to push my opposition 
further." 

"But, Annie— do not — " Mrs. West, in spite of her 
joy at this summons was yet distressed and uneasy. "Oh, 
you must not think like that," she cried desperately. 

"Must not," answered Annie, her indignation suddenly 
flashing out. She held out the chain and locket "Why, 
I would not even leave her portrait to lie in the room 
where you would be 1" 

Mrs. West said nothing, but in her mind was a piercing 
memory of how once this locket, which now Annie 
thought might be contaminated by her presence, had held 
her own photograph. Merely to proclaim that fact would 
crush at once this proud girl, and why should she spare 
one so hostile to her? Yet now anger had lost its savour 
and then Annie asked coldly : 

"Do you intend to return as my father wishes?" 

"Oh, yes," cried Mrs. West, and started oflf to get ready 
in sudden panic at the idea of losing time. 



300 



Constance West 






'One moment," said Annie. "Why are you here?" 
'Why not?" answered Mrs. West, a little awkwardly. 

"I might have suspected something of the sort," said 
Aniiie, who, deeply surprised to hear where Mrs. West 
was, had all the journey from town been imagining deep 
and evil plans laid against Briscoe and herself. The very 
least she anticipated had been some attempt to set Briscoe 
against her by representing her absence as neglect. Her 
eager inquiries when she first arrived had revealed noth- 
ing to alarm her, but the very praise of Mrs. West she 
heard on all sides served to increase her suspicions. "I 
am going to see Arthur," she said, watching the other 
closely for any sign of triumph or dismay. "I shall be 
ready in half an hour." 

At the end of the stipulated time she returned to find 
Mrs. West ready and waiting for her. In almost complete 
silence they took their places in the cutter Annie had 
come in and started away quickly over the smooth snow. 
The sleigh bells tinkled merrily in the calm frosty air as 
the horses trotted fast towards town. The two women sat 
without speaking; but now surprise was mingled with 
resentment in Annie's mind. For Briscoe had confirmed 
the story she had been told of Mrs. West's patient and 
unwearying care for him ; and though she was still deeply 
suspicious she felt that so far, at least, there was some 
cause even for gratitude. "He owes his life to her care," 
she had been told several times. But Annie was not one 
to give up a belief readily or easily. She had been de- 
ceived once and now she searched for some deep and 
malign motive hidden beneath the seeming kindness. 

By her side Mrs. West was as deep in thought, and 
though she was returning to the desire of her heart. 

301 



Constance West 



called again to the care of her husband, she felt little joy 
and no triumph. For one thing, she was deeply con- 
cerned lest Annie might discover the truth about her 
birth; perhaps she even attached an exaggerated and 
morUd importance to this point. She felt it as part of 
her just burden to keep this fact from Annie, because 
doing so must perpetuate her own inability to take her 
rightful position or declare her wrongs, 

"I am taking from Annie her father, I tried to destroy 
her lover, at least one might leave her her mother," mut- 
tered Mrs. West to herself. 

I It even occurred to her that she might give up this 
coming reconciliation and going away leave father and 
daughter untroubled as they had been before her arrival. 
But this she knew to be beyond her strength, though all 
through the drive the suggestion haunted her. 

"Mrs. West,*' said Annie suddenly, as they approached 
their destination^ "I intend to stay for a little at the hotel, 
though of course I shall not interfere with you in any 
way. But I wish to be near at hand. I suppose you do 
not object?" 

"Of course not ; I shall be very glad," said Mrs. West, 
and it occurred to her that this would be a good oppor- 
tunity to declare her renunciation and restore Annie to 
her charge. She pictured the girl's incredulous surprise 
turning to delight as she understood. But she felt it be- 
yond her power, and Annie's cold voice cut into her 
thoughts. 

"Do you know why my father was so anxious and why 
I felt it my duty to 3rield?" She spoke deliberately and 
there was a slow sternness in her voice that served as a 
warning of danger. 



302 



Constance West 



"No, I do not — ^I did not — " came the hesitating answer, 
and then with a quick burst of anxiety : "Oh, is he — " 

"Yes," answered Annie in the same level tones; "the 
doctor says he cannot possibly live more than twenty-four 
hours," 

"Twenty-four hours," repeated Mrs. West mechanical- 
ly, and then she began to laugh softly. "I said I would 
repay him," she added, still with the same low chuckle. 

Annie was neither sufficiently experienced nor suffi- 
ciently calm> to recognize this laughter for what it was, 
and her indignation swelled high, became indeed absolute 
horror. 

"Oh," she cried, "why does God make such women?" 

"As me?" said Mrs. West. "Why, that I do not know." 

"You can Umgh" said Annie, her indignation not less- 
ened at this reply. ^'Laugh — ^at such a thing. I do not 
care what he said. You are not fit I will not permit it 
Why, you must hate him to laugh Oh^ I do not care 
what he said^ — ^he did not understand that You shdl not 
go near him. I will stop you." 

"Then I must run," said Mrs. West, and before Annie 
understood her intention she sprang from the sleigh and 
was running at speed down the road to the hotel, and the 
dry snow rose up like dust behind her as her rapid feet 
displaced it 

Iff a moment or two she was at the door and passed in. 
She went up the stair and entered the room softly, but 
he, now conscious and awake, half raised himself in the 
bed. She ran to him and he took her in his arms and as 
he held her he laughed out in triumph. 

"It is not true ?" she asked between his kisses. "Why do 
you laugh ? Oh, say it is not true." 

303 



Constance West 



"Oh, yes/' he answered, "it is true, true that I have 
paid, true that I am dying. But what does that matter,'' 
he said with laughter, "because it was for you and now 
you have forgiven me." • 

He held her so tightly in his arms that she could not. 
move or speak, nor had she any wish to. It liad been a 
long and devious journey, but she felt that she was home 
once more. He held her so strongly, his laughter was so 
glad, that she could not believe him really dying. Yet 
the thought of it lay black in her mindk "It cannot be 
true," she said to herself^ and even as she spoke the 
strength of his excitement left him so that he dropped 
back upon the bed and lay still. In a paroxysm of anx* 
iety, her heart cold with fear, she leaned above him, using 
every remedy her knowledge suggested while fast her 
messenger sped for the doctor. At last he opened his 
eyes. 

"I shall not die," he whispered as she bent to catch his 
feeble words ; "I shall not die, but live. Doc's a fool." 

"Oh, will you really ? will you, John ?" she asked, hang- 
ing on his words as though everything depended on his 
simple wish ; "dear John, will you ?" / 

"You — ^bet," he murmured between short gasps. 

"Then will we be happy yet, very happy," she whispered 
in his ear ; '"happy ! happy I happy !" she breathed in a kind 
of ecstasy and knew not she whispered to the dead. 



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